46. Your name is written.

Man exists in community. Other people know your name. Your name brings either vague memories of a fleeting meeting, or clear impressions of laughter, love and friendship. In other relationships you meet people to broaden your education at school and college, or to learn from in church or mentoring, formally or informally, however you choose. How special is that sought-after invitation to you by name to an event where the host will lavish food and drink upon you on an extravagant occasion.

Parents never forget the names of their children. Whatever a child may choose to do for the good or the bad, their names are engraved in the hearts of their parents. There might be distance, geographically or emotionally, but their names are forever written in the heart of a parent, not only to be remembered in neutrality and composure, but certainly with longing that brings joy or tears. It is most unusual for a parent to distance himself or herself from a child and when it happens – and it does – it brings overwhelming anguish, heartbreak and emotional trauma. On the other hand, children are expected to leave home and make their own lives, and still, full rejection of parents with neglected contact or none at all, causes a deep sense of loss.

Do you know the feeling when somebody calls your name or knows your name amongst thousands? It is so much more than being a number or just a face among many.

God will never forget your name. He has given you life. Whatever you may choose in life, to reject His love or to respond to His call, He knows you. Hear, truly hear the Word of God, in the deep, anointed singing voice of the ancient prophet Isaiah that echoes through the ages. God says:

Everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him.” Isaiah 43:7

For Jacob My servant’s sake, and Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name; I have named you, though you have not known Me. Isaiah 45:4

Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, who brings out their host by number. He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power. Not one is missing. Isaiah 40:26

But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. Isaiah 43:1

I was a little girl when my mother told me about a gigantic, beautiful desk, a fine, polished leather book inscribed with gold and an enormous angel with a golden quill. My imagination of the scribe of heaven ran wild. I have always loved books, fascinated to this day with calligraphy and all things to do with paper and stationery. How could I ever conjure an accurate picture of the Lamb’s Book of Life and my name written there? In Malachi 3 our names are written in the Book of Remembrance before the Lord as we speak His name and He listens, rejoicing about us and doing good to us.

Pebble pal, your name is written. Rejoice as we hear the word of God to the church.

Sardis – the dead church.

The city of Sardis stood on a ridge of which the sides were smoothly precipitous. It was approachable from one side only, making it almost impregnable. The ridge was too small for expansion, causing the city to expand to the valley. Sardis was therefore divided into two parts – high and low. It was a wealthy city with lots of gold available from mines in the region. The king of Sardis was defeated in war with Persia. During the battle he retreated to higher part of the city, leaving the precipice unguarded, believing it was impenetrable. One Persian soldier found a way up and led the troops up to find the city completely unprepared for the fight. The whole scenario was repeated in a battle with Alexander the Great. With Rome ruling, Sardis was the centre of the wool trade. After a destructive earthquake in 17 AD, the city lost its luster, life and energy. It became symbolic of lost enthusiasm; lacking a sense of duty. Although it was still important for trade it was not inspiring or aspiring to anybody or anything.

Jesus holds the seven spirits (the fullness of the Holy Spirit) and seven stars (the seven churches depicting the whole church). He is the symbol of the comprehensive anointing of the Spirit of the Lord according to Isaiah 11:2. Not one will be snatched from His hand. Jesus holds on to them and will not let go. He informs them of their reputation of deadness and urges them to repent and change their ways. An accusation of pretense is serious. The church should be the answer to the world. It might pretend to be, but it is dead inside and no solution to the need of the unbelievers.

Hear the call of God – wake up. There is still time to do the work necessary. Isaiah called for Jerusalem to wake up. We, the church, heed the call:

Awake, awake! Put on your strength, O Zion; Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city! For the uncircumcised and the unclean shall no longer come to you. Shake yourself from the dust, arise… Isaiah 52.

Whereas she who lives for pleasure and self-indulgence is spiritually dead even while she still lives. 1 Timothy 5:6.

Timothy warns against pretense as a form of godliness, but denying the power of the true Gospel. (Timothy 3:5) The sinful church is weak and ineffective. We are called to make a difference and live as God’s love-solution to the wickedness around us.

The words of the father of the prodigal son rings true:

 … for this son of mine was [as good as] dead and is alive again; he was lost and has been found.’ So they began to celebrate. – Luke 15:24

And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. Romans 6:13.

Sin brings death. It is the death of our will, when we cannot break the bad habits. Sin is the death of feelings, when our conscience dies.

Sin is the death of beauty and loveliness, when the craving for power and lust becomes ugly and vulgar.

Although the church receives no formal commendation, the Spirit mentions the remnant, the ones with undefiled garments, in 3:4. They are found worthy to walk with Jesus, clothed in white.

Jesus challenges the church to remember the truth that they have received and repent. To be watchful, is to learn from city’s history and never be unprepared for the spiritual battle.

The only way to remember the truth is to turn back to the Cross of Jesus and the Word.

Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. 1 Corinthians 16:13

Keep alert to be wise and recognize the ways of evil and false teaching. The promise illustrates the eternity of glory in the presence of Christ when we are clothed for the wedding feast, our names are written in the Book of Life, which is the record of the redeemed to be announced in the Throne room of heaven. The Lamb’s Book of Life is mentioned often in Revelation. (13:8, 17:8, 20:12,15)

Moses speaks of the book God has written – Exodus 32:32.

Writing in a book in the Presence of God is mentioned in Psalm 69:28, Daniel 12:1, Malachi 3:16, Luke 10:20, Philippians 4:3.

In the ancient church white clothes were put on after baptism to symbolize festivity, purity and victory. Jesus will clothe us in the robe of righteousness.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10.

In our beautiful garment our name is announced, not by the footman or doorkeeper, but by Jesus before the Father and the angels.

It is important to again realize that this state of affairs is not for one day in the distant future. It is happening now. Restoration takes place at this instant on the act of repentance. Our names are written and announced right now and the powerful impact of this state of affairs reverberates in our everyday lives. We are called to the table of feasting even in the wilderness of evil and brokenness around us. Psalm 23.

Philadelphia – the faithful church

This is the youngest of the cities called by a name derived from the Greek word philadelphos that means one who loves his brother.

The city was founded for a specific reason: to spread Greek culture, language and philosophy by peaceful means. It has been given an open door by history to pave the way and to know the manner in which to spread the Gospel.

The city was situated on the edge of a great volcanic plain, which made it very fertile, especially for grape-growing. It became famous for good wine.

The earthquake of 17 AD in the region also hit Philadelphia. The city felt tremors for years after, causing daily panic when cracks appeared. The residents were too afraid to live inside the city. They lived outside the city limits in huts. Those who remained inside often fled for their lives.

The inhabitants of Philadelphia could appreciate the promise: – they will go out no more, (3:12). The city was also familiar with new names. It was given a new name after the ruins were rebuilt by Tiberius [Neocaesarea – new city of Caesar] and again Flavia after the family name of Vespasian. Later, the name Philadelphia, was restored.

Throughout history the city withstood onslaughts of the Turks and Muslims. For centuries it was a free Greek city and the last bastion of Asian Christianity. Philadelphia fell to Islam in the 14th century, but to this day there is a remnant of Christians with a bishop.

[Today Smyrna is Izmir and Philadelphia is Alasehir in Turkey. All the other cities mentioned in Revelation are only ruins.]

Christ is described as Holy, which means different and separate, a confirmation of the description in Isaiah 6:3, 40:25,43:15.

Christ is described as True. There are two words for true. Alethes – which contrasts true as opposed to false and alethinos, which expresses real as opposed to unreal. Christ is declared real.

The key of David depicts authority to admit into the New Jerusalem. (Isaiah 22:22) Jesus is the door:

I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. John 10:9.

Jesus opens the door into the Presence of the Father through our prayer and worship. No one can shut the door. Christ gives entrance to the church, which He commends for faithfulness in difficult circumstances. There are always tests in this world in which we must persevere. We need endurance in times of testing. (Hebrews 10:36)

Christ who comes quickly depicts times of trouble where we learn to know Him in the fullness of His redemptive power. If we do not need His miracles and salvation, we will never know what He can do and how He works His righteousness in our lives to transform us into His likeness and build our character to be the true church.

It is in times of trouble that Christ is revealed in His church. It is for this present life, just like the parable of the ten virgins illustrates. Only His wisdom and His Spirit will reveal the deception in the church of those who lie about their identity and are called the synagogue of Satan. Note that the warning is about the falseness IN the church.

The church receives no condemnation, only warning and comfort.

The challenge is to hold on and persist to receive the promise and not lose the crown of victory. (Hebrews 10:36-39)

A long list of promises is made. The church will receive recognition from within and a secure place in tribulation. A pillar in the Temple of God depicts a place of honour and dignity. Security and steadfastness in faith will bring stability.

The name of God and the name of the church, the New Jerusalem, which is written on us, will serve as a branding of love, marked by God’s honour and victory. We will enjoy the privilege of heaven with a new name.

So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them.” Numbers 6:27.

All the way around shall be eighteen thousand cubits; and the name of the city from that day shall be: THE LORD IS THERE.” Ezekiel 48:35.

This is heaven – the Lord is there. What more can we ever want.

Laodicea – the lukewarm church

Nothing good is said about this church – a grim distinction from the others. The ancient world had six cities called by this name.

This particular city was important only because of its location. The highway to the East went right through the city. Travelers entered by the Ephesian gate and exited by the Syrian gate.

It was a commercial and strategic centre for banking and finance. The citizens were so rich that they could rebuild the city after the earthquake with their own money. They argued that they did not need Rome or God.

It was also a centre for manufacturing of clothing and well known for the soft, violet-black wool used for the making of outer garments called trimita. The clothing industry was prosperous and proud of it. Spiritually they were naked in the sight of God.

The city was a medical centre famous for eye and ear ointment. Spiritually they did not recognize their blindness.

The words of the risen Christ speak directly to the pride and wealth of the citizens. There was a large population of Jews who were wealthy and influential. The city governor put a ban on the export of currency since so many Jews paid temple tax to Jerusalem. They then paid their temple tax in gold and consequently this was seized as contraband.

Christ is the Amen as stated in Isaiah:

So that he who blesses himself in the earth

Shall bless himself in the God of truth;

And he who swears in the earth

Shall swear by the God of truth; Isaiah 65:16.

It is a solemn statement that guarantees truth. Christ is utterly reliable and true beyond all doubt. Jesus often said: “very truly I tell you”. (Greek = Amen)

He is the faithful and true witness. In Hebrew a statement is often repeated for impact and confirmation. Only few people could read and the letters, prophecies and law were read to an assembly of listeners. To repeat was to emphasize importance through the spoken word so that the audience can remember.

Christ is the beginning of creation, creator of all things (John 1:3).

In Him are all things (Colossians 1:16). He is more that just the beginning; He is the source of all.

Sin and death were caused by the choices of man, not God. God creates and redeems.

The word used for cold is psuchros which means to the point of freezing. Zestos is boiling hot. Tepid or lukewarm is chliaros in Greek. In the neighbouring town was mineral water. When you drink it hot, it had healing power, but lukewarm it made you vomit.

Indifference is hard to break. It is only broken in a committed and loving church so that people are saved. Neutrality is impossible. Non-submission to Christ is resistance to the Gospel.

Meaningless Christianity is strongly condemned and emphasized by the gross description of nausea and vomiting.

The condemnation is fierce: wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. (3:17)

The city was physically rich, but spiritually poor. Gold was real in the city, but spiritually of no use. Money does not buy character.

The counsel to the church is to buy from Jesus. Salvation is free, but our character is bought in the refiner’s fire. Our testimonies of miracles and answer to prayer, our faith is gold in the eyes of heaven.

… that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, – 1 Peter 1:7.

Clothing is the remedy for the shame of nakedness, which causes humiliation:

“Behold, I am against you,” says the Lord of hosts;

“I will lift your skirts over your face, I will show the nations your nakedness, and the kingdoms your shame. Nahum 3:5.

God honours his people by fine garments, like Joseph, Daniel, Esther and the prodigal son. The beauty that only Christ can give is our white garments. It is soul fashion. The garment of praise (Isaiah 61:3) covers us when sin brings depression, shame, and failure.

With our robe of righteousness we are suitable for the Lord’s presence. It is such a beautiful scripture to be memorized. Here I quote it again:

I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has covered me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom puts on a turban, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10.

The church knows what is suitable to God. The entire content of the letters to the Romans and the Galatians is aimed to purify and prepare the church. (Romans 13:14, Colossians 3:9). The Pharisees had fine garments and still they were naked before Christ.

 Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 13:14)

Next, the church is recommended to buy eye- salve. Everything in life is dependant on vision. Can we see the lie? Can we see the outcome? Hagar flees into the desert after the row with Sarah. (Genesis 16:14 and 21) She almost succumbs to thirst and put the child away from her to be far removed from the cruel death she expects. Her eyes do not see the well. The well was there, but her bitterness and self-pity made her blind. It is God who opens our eyes to see our answers.

This is a super important spiritual principle. Let us together always pray the blind man’s prayer: Lord, that I can see.

Jesus states that He chastens those He loves. His love is described in Greek with the word agapan, which expresses unconditional love. It is an unconquerable attitude of goodwill, which nothing can turn into hate or indifference.

For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights. Proverbs 3:12

The word used for rebuke is elegchein, which means that the receiver of the rebuke is compelled to see the error. It is not punishment, rather illumination and insight.

Ephesians 4:17-19 describes the darkness in the minds of the unbeliever. We receive correction and insight and rejoice in it. It is further explained in several scriptures to illustrate that the crushed grape makes the wine. (Psalm 94:12, Job 5:17, Hebrews 11:6-8,12)

God is knocking at the door of this church. It is frightening to think of Christ outside the church. The remedy is to let Him in. He knocks as the lover of your soul and the lover of souls. The handle of your heart is on the inside and operated only by choice.

No other religion has the vision of a seeking God.

 The word for meal is deipnon. It was the most important meal of the day in the evening with time to linger in fellowship. For most ordinary working people breakfast was light and fast and lunch mostly on the road or in the field. Jesus present at the evening meal pictures a time of complete fulfillment.

A throne in the east was more a couch than a single seat. A victorious throne is to be shared with Christ. Just note the high reward to a disappointing church. God loves His church and will correct so that He can bless.

Thank you Lord Jesus for never letting us go. No sin, shame and blindness can ever separate us from the love of God.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Rejoice in the declaration of Paul in Romans 8. We share the victorious throne and nothing can change that. If God is for us, what or who can prevail against us?

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45. Do you hear what I hear?

Digging into the detail of this magnificent piece of literature, could become overwhelming. Amongst the dragons, devils, names and numbers, struggling to make sense of the seals, trumpets and bowls full of disaster and disease, the author chants the refrain:

 “Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. (Revelation 2:7, The Message)

He who has an ear, let him hear and heed what the Spirit says to the churches, in older translations. Are we hearing the voice? This is the purpose of our study. We might study Revelation many times in our life – I hope so – but for now, God is ready to speak, to intervene into your understanding and circumstances and lift you up to walk with Him. Praise Jesus for opening up the way into the Kingdom.

Pray with me: Lord Jesus, thank you for the Cross. Thank you for the magnificence and glory to which we are invited in You. Thank you for the honour of experiencing the Presence of our Father and thank you for your Breath, the Holy Spirit, who blows and breathes Your word into our hearts and minds to deeper understanding and fuller faith to drive out all fear and bondage. We submit to Your correction to be a worthy lampstand of Your light in this world. We will overcome by the Blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.

 Pergamum(os) – the compromising church

The third church addressed by John carries the name Pergamum = Latin or Pergamos = Greek. It was the greatest city in Asia Minor and the capital of the region for over 400 years. It had the most impressive library outside Alexandria (Egypt) and the inhabitants were used to visitors from all over the ancient world.

It is said that the word parchment is derived from the name of this city. Parchment is made of animal skins and legend has it that the King of Pergamum headhunted the librarian of Alexandria to extend his city’s library to be the very best in the world. The king of Egypt reacted by arresting the librarian and immediately blocked the export of papyrus to Pergamum. With nothing to write on, the scribes of Asia Minor, treated animal skin with tension and lime and thus used the more long lasting material for writing on, known as parchment. Other sources, however, state that parchment was used as far back as the fifth century BC, but the trade in parchment was dominated by Pergamum.

The image of Christ holds the two-edged sword in His hand. The Roman governors carried a short, tongue-shaped sword and held the power over life and death in Roman law enforcement. Christ is the ultimate judge over life and death. His Word is the judge – always fair and compassionate.

A dwelling place could have two meanings: a place where one resides permanently or a place where one is just passing through. The word used here is the one for passing through. Satan’s throne could refer to the Temple of Zeus in Pergamum with a huge sculpture of Zeus sitting on his throne, which depicts the Battle of the Giants, important in the mythology of the Roman gods. Also in Pergamum was the temple of Asclepios, the god of medicine with a serpent as symbol, built like a hospital. People with ailments often sacrificed in this temple in the hope of healing. Pergamum was also known for loyal Caesar-worship, making it truly Satan’s throne.

The word martyr originally meant witness. As so many of Christ’s witnesses were killed in the early church, the word came to depict only those who give their life for the Gospel. The church in Pergamum stayed faithful throughout a season of severe persecution and was given the honourary title of Christ, who was Himself a martyr of His message.

The church is warned, however, not to be permissive and compromise the purity and holiness of the truth. Balaam is the symbol of a stumbling block and the Nicolaitans seduce the church into a relaxing of moral purity and idolatry. Jesus speaks clearly and strongly against this. A Christian is to be different, distinct = hagios. In the world, Paul says:

To the weak I became [as the] weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means [in any and every way] save some [by leading them to faith in Jesus Christ]. (1 Corinthians 9:22, Amplified)

Paul did all this without compromising his moral purity. He stuck to his principles without acting high and mighty above everyone as religious hypocrisy so often portrays.

The road to purification is by the Word. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin and the invitation to salvation is open. God will come quickly means God is active in His church to convict and purify to open the way for blessing and growth. The hidden manna to the Jewish mind meant all the messianic blessings of the covenant. It is a feast of heavenly food. Jesus is the Bread of Life according to John 6:31-35. He gives Himself as our heavenly portion with all the blessings from God’s riches in Him.

In ancient times, stones were used as symbolic of precious gifts and the Jews associate it with manna from heaven. White and black stones were used to signal the verdicts of the juries in the legal process – white for life and black for death. In Roman society a Tessera stone, carried on the person, was a proof of privileges for winning at the games and for the benefits retired gladiators were to receive. In the Roman army a happy day was a white day, which is to be enjoyed as a day off while the army is locked in a siege and was decided by drawing beans. A pebble was often carried as a lucky charm with a sacred name of a god who could be summoned for help and was doubly effective when no one knew the name written on the stone carried in the pocket of a garment. John truly collected all the superstition and false hopes of the secular society in which the church served, to declare Christ as the answer to every question and search for hope ever.

The promise to the faithful and repentant is a new name. New could mean: neos – more of the same depicting quantity as in a new pencil but many others already exist or: –

kainos – unique, has never been, depicting quality as in one of a kind.

Revelation often talks about new in the sense of one of a kind:

new Jerusalem (3:12), new song (5:9) new heavens and new earth (21:1,5)

A person with a new name always acquired new status in God – Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter and Saul to Paul as examples.

Isaiah 62:2:

The nations will see your righteousness and vindication [by God], and all kings [will see] your glory; and you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will designate.

Christ promises us new status, glory and favour to the faithful to distinguish us as unique and special.

Thyatira – the corrupt church

John writes the longest letter to the least important of the cities. Thyatira was situated in a valley connecting Pergamum and Sardis. As a city its location made it difficult to defend. It was a shrine to fortune telling in the region. Lydia, seller of purple (Acts 16:14) lived here. The city was well known for the trade guilds (societies of commerce with secrets and agreements) operating under the symbol of a patron deity. The guilds held banquets, more often than not drunken parties. The meat served at these meals was an issue for Christians. The meat was offered to the patron god. If Christians chose not to participate, the practical implication would be the cutting off of Christians from all social gatherings.

The image of Christ pictured is threatening like the description in Daniel 10:6. Anger and wrath are symbolized by bronze feet, which means immovable power. Son of God is His title of authority as the Most High.

The church is highly praised for love, service and faith. They have grown in labour to the Lord, a lovely compliment for a community.

The criticism against the church comes with a symbol of idolatry from the Old Testament. Jezebel was the wife of Ahab, one of the kings of Israel. When he married his Phoenician bride he built a temple for Baal worship in Samaria and brought idolatry into Israel. (1 Kings 16:29-31). At that time, ancient nations believed their gods to be territorial and even the Israelites, backslidden as they were, believed Baal should stay in Phoenicia. It was only during the exile in Assyria and Babylon that God’s people recognized His omni-presence away from the promised land. Jezebel’s name is used symbolically for false prophecy and idolatry leading people astray, hence her depiction as the harlot queen. She is a symbol of compromise.

Condemnation to this church is in the form of a sick bed. A bed-ridden church cannot function and will be rendered ineffective until repentance can heal and restore.

Worship to false gods was often symbolized by adultery as in the book of Hosea. He had to marry a prostitute, who often betrayed his love. He constantly had to win her back and stay true to his faithful love for her, to portray God’s unfailing love for us even when we backslide into unfaithfulness and sin. Adultery to false prophecy and deception will be revealed by Jesus because nothing is hidden from His sight. He searches the hearts and minds and His Spirit opens our eyes to lies, even religious lies.

And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13)

Depths of Satan describe the despair of the people who have been led into deception. God sees this and always rescues the remnant (2:25). The stand against false doctrine is often persecution within the church community. We need to hold fast and study His word. One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the discernment of spirits. (1 Corinthians 12:10) God promises wisdom without reproach to all who ask. (James 1)

The church is challenged and urged to repent. Repentance is always the remedy to clear the way for reward. A repentant church will share in the victory of Christ, as He was promised in Psalm 2:8,9 to receive the heritage of the nations. The morning star is one of the names of Jesus. He is the ultimate reward – the dawning of a new day, the first resurrection and the conqueror of Lucifer. Lucifer was called the morning star before his fall from heaven. Christ is the true Morning Star. We, the church, are the wise and shall shine like stars. (Daniel 12:3)

And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19 -21)

 

 

44. And they are Mine, says the Lord.

“They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” (Malachi 3:17)

The letters to the churches are written on a high standard of literary craftsmanship. It is an artistic whole and closely integrated. Each letter starts with a characteristic of Jesus mentioned in the first chapter, except the last one, Laodicea. All the descriptions of Jesus are taken from the Old Testament applied to the risen Christ. The scene is set for Christ in conversation with His church. He is holding them in His hand, moving amongst them in a close and warm relationship.

The churches depict the church of Christ at all times, historically as well as the end time church. The number seven symbolizes completion and full inclusion. The cities where the churches were, were all located on a trade route in Asia Minor, a province of Rome. It was not the most important or largest churches at the time of writing. It does not symbolize any denominations, although some interpretations of the historical view, explain the greater trends in Christian history alongside these letters in Revelation. As was said in the beginning, Revelation could be interpreted on multiple levels. For now, we are asking God to let us hear what the Spirit says to the church for this very moment in our lives. We always need to hear God. The promise is that He will speak to us. God’s voice is the pearl beyond price, the truest treasure of all – not theologically correct and all-inclusive interpretation.

Therefore My people shall know My name;

Therefore they shall know in that day

That I am He who speaks:

‘Behold, it is I.’”   (Isaiah 52:6)

The angels of the churches are the messengers bringing the Word of God. Jesus spoke about our guardian angels in Matthew 18:10. In Acts 12:15 an angel helps Peter escape from prison, supernaturally. To the Jewish ear, this was nothing new or strange. Angels are commanded to support and minister to the church. The church is us – blood-bought, born-again children of God. It is confirmed in Hebrews 1:14:

 Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?

The leaders of the church are important to God and carry great responsibility as well as blessing and anointing to be equipped for their task.

“For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge,

And people should seek the law from his mouth;

For he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 2:7).

All the churches are addressed in a certain way to recognize a commission, a character description of Christ, a commendation (except Sardis and Laodicea), a condemnation or censure, a correction, a challenge and a covenant promise.

Ephesus – the loveless church

Ephesus was a big city with a harbour that served as the gateway to the region. It was a free city, meaning it was self-governing with only occasional tours of the Roman proconsul, an official much like a provincial judge. Many tribes and nations lived together and the city was known for crime and immorality. It was famous for its games in the arena offering cruelty and killing as entertainment. It was the centre for the worship of Diana (Greek = Artemis), the goddess of fertility portrayed in ancient times by a many-breasted female figure. It was also known for many superstitions represented by small objects and charms that were supposed to bring good luck, healing or fertility that were called Ephesian letters. People came from everywhere to buy them. Paul stayed in Ephesus quite long, Timothy was the first pastor and according to Acts 18 Aquila, Priscilla and Apollos ministered there. It was the residence of John before and after his exile to Patmos.

Jesus holds the seven stars in His hand. He is in complete control of everything. In His own words:

 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:28)

Jesus walks amidst the lampstands (the church). He is always active and works tirelessly on our behalf. “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” (John 5:17)

He praises them for their hard work, endurance and labour for good, but their good works have developed into loveless orthodoxy and routine. They hated the Nicolaitans, who was a group claiming superior status of spirituality and permitting idolatry and immorality, indulgence and no restrain.

The command is to repent as the church is threatened from the inside. The loss of the first love, the warm excitement of a new relationship, makes them powerless and ineffective against the onslaught of sin. Faithful persistent love lasts till the end.

…having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. (John 13:1)

A loss of first love is easily recognizable by the working of the Holy Spirit to reveal and convict. It is exposed in over-familiarity in things divine, arrogance and a superficial approach to the Word of God. Characteristics of a first-love relationship are vision and purpose combined with humility and dependence on the Holy Spirit. The church is prepared to do what it takes to love like Jesus – faithfully to the end.

The threat to remove the lampstand comes to the leader of the church to save the flock and to give them to a leader more worthy. God always looks after the remnant and actively rescues the scattered sheep after the wolves have battered them.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7:15.)

For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. (Acts 20:29.)

It is very important to note that the condemnation comes with the purpose to clear the way for blessing. We are never confused as to what God requires. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin, judgment and righteousness in order to lead us to repentance and effectively rid us of sin, so that God’s blessing and reward can flow freely.

To the overcomers God promises the Tree of Life in Paradise. To Jewish thought the Tree of Life was a fragrant, beautiful tree with good produce to feed and give shade. All of these images speak of the restored relationship with Jesus so that the circumstances of Eden can be reconstrued. In His presence there is no decay, no destruction – only peace and perfect love.

Smyrna – the persecuted church.

Smyrna was a beautiful city known as the crown of Asia. The sea breeze catching its location made it cooler, but blew the smell of sewage drained into the sea right back to the city. It was an important trade centre and the city grew in a well-planned way around business. It had a “street of gold” where the Temple of Zeus (principal Roman god) and temples to other deities formed a “necklace” around the hill on which the city was located. It was a free city, loyal to Rome in Caesar-worship [see Pebbles 41] and known for its culture.

To this city Christ is introduced as the risen Messiah, the First and the Last who was dead and who lives again. The earthly splendour of the city is nothing compared to victory over death. The Jews are very influential and very hostile to the Christians. Polycarp, a very influential bishop in the early church was martyred at the games in Smyrna. Christians lived uncertain lives and belonged to the lower classes. Their possessions were plundered by anybody who felt like it and they could not accumulate wealth. They were spiritually rich.

It is noteworthy that the ancient world tried to fill their “godly gap” with all sorts of deities, which led to much confusion and countless animal sacrifices to multiple gods in case any of them are angry. Worship to one God, almighty and all wise, was very attractive to many. The Jews were exclusive about Judaism, but allowed Gentiles into their fold under strict adherence to the Law and limited access to the Temple. Christianity, preaching a loving, welcoming God, ready to save and bless with no animal sacrifices, was a balm of peace and assurance in a world of many and mostly hostile gods.

The synagogue is now of Satan as it became an assembly working against the purposes of God. This happens when the Presence of the Lord leaves the community of believers and rebellious people determine the agenda. Read about the rebellion of Korah and God’s purification of disloyalty to His chosen leaders, even with their weaknesses. No leader is perfect, but he is the anointed of God and God will deal with him. Rebellion can be very confusing and leave the sheep scattered.

 They gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” So when Moses heard it, he fell on his face; and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, “Tomorrow morning the Lord will show who is His and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to Him. That one whom He chooses He will cause to come near to Him. (Numbers 16:3,4,5)

The period of ten days is symbolic for a short and limited time. Prison in those days was mostly a prelude to death. Christianity was persecuted under many accusations – cannibalism (eating flesh and drinking blood – symbolic in communion, but deliberately falsely understood), lust – love message distorted, family break-ups, fire-raisers with talk of the apocalypse, disloyal to Rome because their refusal to worship Caesar, etc.

The crown of life is a victorious crown of triumph in battle. The victor’s crown is stephanos in Greek and diadem in Latin. The Romans loved crowns. They wore them to banquets, the games and even for worship. The crown of Jesus is everlasting and depicts victory over the second death.

The second death is only ever mentioned in Revelation (20:6,14 and 21:8) and means eternal separation from God. The Sadducees (a Jewish religious group slightly different from the Pharisees) believed there was no life after death. Some Jews believed in an intermediate phase, much like the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. Daniel 12:2 and John 5:29 talk about the graves of the faithful dead. For us, the word of Jesus to the murderer on the cross next to Him is our guide to death.

And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43. Physical death is a mystery, but never scary. Jesus was victorious over death and took the sting out of the finality and overwhelming helplessness of death. (1 Corinthians 15:55)

My prayer is, Pebble pal, that you will read Revelation with a humble, but confident spirit of understanding and share in the blessing of prophecy. Safely shaded under His wing and sheltered in His shadow (Psalm 91) in the invisible kingdom of God on earth, all the confusion and evil around us are described and predicted in this book, to encourage us that we belong to another world and live here only as pilgrims and strangers, never victims, but as overcomers. (Hebrews 11:13)

 

 

 

Next time: Pergamum(os) and Thyatira.