Evangelical Community Chapel at Liberal: a Molalla, Oregon Church

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Revelation 2:8-28

July 31st, 2010 by Vic

Revelation 2:8-28

“Endurance is not Tolerance”

August 1, 2010

Monday evening I watched part of a program that was talking about Revelation 13.  I think it was called End Times ministries.  It was very interesting and entertaining.  The speaker was identifying the 7 heads of the beast that was coming out of the sea.  It was interesting to me that he never once considered what this verse meant to John when he wrote it.  Or what it has meant to the church for the last 2,000 years.  He quoted Daniel to confirm what the symbolism means to us.  The speaker assumed that it was written for us today and the important thing was what it means to us.  That is partly true, but it is a little arrogant and takes some of the focus off of God.

Today I want to read the letters to 3 churches in chapter 2.  Pay attention to the description of Jesus, the good things the churches were doing, the sins they were committing, and the certainty of righteous judgment to come.  In Acts we learned that the basis of Christian belief is the resurrection.  If there is no resurrection there is no judgment.

2:8-11  The name Smyrna comes from the word myrrh, one of the spices used in the burial of Christ.  It was a fragrant spice, but had to be crushed and beaten in order to release its full fragrance and perfume.  The Christians were being crushed and persecuted.  How do you smell when you are crushed?

Jesus introduces Himself as the divine sovereign over history.  He knows the economic suffering they are experiencing and also the spiritual wealth they are sharing with others.

Smyrna was a proud patriotic city that had been chosen to build a temple to the Roman emperor.  In A.D. 26, Tiberias chose Smyrna to build a temple in his honor.  There was a competition among several cities like there is today between cities wanting to host the Olympics.  The temple became a tourist attraction.  Everyone was supposed to burn incense to Caesar once a year and say “Caesar is Lord”.  After making your statement you would get a certificate of compliance.  You could use this to buy food or get a job.  Something like a union card.  The Jews were exempt from this requirement.  The law to declare Caesar as lord was not regularly enforced unless a neighbor complained.  The Jews complained and slandered the Christians.  Their slander demonstrated that they were false Jews and a synagogue of satan as the prophet Isaiah had said 800 years earlier.

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid.  This is a test for 10 days like Daniel and his 3 friends.  They refused to eat food dedicated to idols also.”  They would not eat at the king’s table and give loyalty to him above all others.  Don’t give allegiance to the trade guild deities or participate in their festivals.  Be faithful and you will receive the crown of life, which is paradise or heaven.

Above the city was a hill ringed with at least 6 temples and monuments.  Picture a seaport city with a large land locked harbor that was easy to defend.  Coming from the sea these temples looked like a crown over the city.  Ships would enter through a narrow mouth and their first sight was the white temples on the hill connected by a street of gold, referred to as the Crown of Smyrna.

Polycarp probably read this letter from John.  He became pastor of the church in Smyrna in 115.

He was a respected leader in the city for 40 years, but a thorn in the flesh for the Jews.  On Saturday, February 23rd, 155 he was martyred.  “It was the time of the Superbowl or public games; the city was crowded; the crowds were excited.  Suddenly the shout went up: “Away with the atheists; let Polycarp be searched for.”  Polycarp could have escaped; but already he had had a dream in which he saw the pillow under his head burning with fire, and he had awakened to tell his disciples, “I must be burnt alive.”  They came to arrest him. He ordered that those who had come for him should be given a meal, and provided with all they wished, while he asked for himself the privilege of one last hour in prayer.  Not even the police captain wished to see Polycarp die.  On the brief journey to the city, he pled with the old man: “What harm is it to say, ‘Caesar is Lord’ and to offer sacrifice and to be saved?”  Even the soldier knew that sacrifices did not help anything, so how could it hurt?  But Polycarp was adamant that for him only Jesus Christ was Lord.

When he entered the arena, the proconsul gave him the choice of cursing the name of Christ and making sacrifice to Caesar or death. “Eighty and six years have I served Him and He has done me no wrong.  How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”  The proconsul threatened him with burning, and Polycarp replied; “You threaten me with the fire that burns for a time, and is quickly quenched, for you do not know the fire which awaits the wicked in the judgment to come and in everlasting punishment.  Why are you waiting?”  In spite of the appeals of even the persecutors Polycarp remained immovable.

So the crowds came flocking with faggots from the workshops and from the baths, and the Jews, even though it was their Sabbath, and even though they were breaking the Sabbath law by carrying such burdens, they were foremost in the clamor and foremost in bringing wood for the fire.  They were so religious they broke their rules of religion being religious.  They were going to bind him to the stake, but at his request didn’t.

The 1st death is separation from the physical.  The 2nd death is separation from God.  Overcomers are immune to the 2nd death.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

The words of Jesus to this church have no criticism, only complements and a covenant.  The format of the letter is similar to the one to Ephesus: Jesus introduces Himself in a way that lets them know that He knows and cares. Then He commends them, cautions them, and finally made a covenant with them.

2:12-17  Pergamum was the provincial capital of Roman Asia, 68 miles north of Smyrna.  It had been a capital city for different rulers for over 400 years.  It was 15 miles inland on a large river like the Willamette.  It was not on any of the great roads, but it was a large and well known city.  Built on a hill, many public buildings enjoyed a view of the sea.  The temple of Asklepios was the nearest thing the ancient world had to our present idea of a hospital.  Asklepios was the god of healing and its symbol was the serpent.  The serpent was used as a decorative symbol throughout this city.

Pergamum had a large library.  Over 200,000 volumes made it the second largest library in the world only exceeded by Alexandria, Egypt.  In the 3rd century B.C. the city decided to make the library even greater.  They bribed the librarian at Alexandria, to come.  Ptolemy of Egypt heard about it and promptly imprisoned Aristophanes and by way of retaliation he put an embargo on the export of papyrus to Pergamum.  Papyrus is like our brown paper, made from the pith of a very large bulrush which grows beside the Nile.  The pith was cut into strips, pressed into sheets, and smoothed to make papyrus.

Now instead of becoming the greatest library, they could not even get paper.  The scholars of Pergamum invented parchment or vellum, which is made of the skins of beasts, smoothed and polished.  It ended up being the better writing material and within a couple hundred years replaced papyrus. The word parchment is derived from the word Pergamum, made in Pergamum.

Christ identifies Himself as a threatening judge.  Like the Christians of Smyrna, they have been faithful and witnessing to their faith in Christ.  The throne of Satan could be the imperial temples, the altar of Zeus, the administrative bench or court house, the Asklepios temple, evil influence over the city, the hill on which the city was built.  Satan had power in this city.  The city referred to itself as the “temple warden” of the temple dedicated to Caesar worship.  Earthly power was persecuting the Christians.  The word of Christ is more powerful than Satan.  His word will judge the city.

Nevertheless, the church is tolerating a group of compromisers.  The problem is opposite that in Ephesus.  The Christians in Pergamum were allowing internal compromise.  Numbers 22-25 tell the story of Balaam.  He claimed to be a prophet of God.  He talked like a prophet of God.  He thought he was a prophet of God.  But he was dumber than his donkey.  He gave deceitful council that led to the worship of idols.

People attending church, teaching Bible classes, and thinking they are doing good, can be teaching falsehood.  Refusal to participate in trade guild festivals could result in economic and social ostracism.  Therefore there was much pressure to compromise.  They were enticing Christians to participate in idol feasts.  Balaam became proverbial for the false teacher who for money encourages believers to compromise.  They would say that adultery was OK.  Homosexuality is not really a sin.  Marriage is unnecessary.

Like the Nicolaitans, they tried to say you can believe God in your heart and then what you do physically does not matter.

The Bible says, “Your sins will find you out.”  God will not put up with those who turn their back on Him.  Repent means to turn around.

Like the Ephesians, the Christians in Pergamum have their own sin to overcome.  If they overcome their sin of tolerance and execute discipline on both false groups, Christ promises an inheritance.

The hidden manna is far better than any idol feast menu.  Manna was complete nourishment for the children of Israel.  Jews believe the Ark was hidden with manna in it by Jeremiah and will be found when the Messiah comes.  To enjoy the hidden manna means to enjoy the presence of Messiah.  The manna is Jesus, the Bread from heaven, the Bread of life.  For the Christian He has bread to eat that the world knows nothing about.  He has a hidden peace that this world cannot understand.  The banquet with Jesus will be greater and more satisfying than any political fund raiser.  Do you know the satisfaction of Jesus’ presence?

Ephesus had the tree of life.  Smyrna had the crown of life.  Pergamum receives the bread of life at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

They also receive a white stone with a new name written on it.  This may refer to several things.  The white stones were on the breastplate of the high priest who has honor and dignity in the holy place of God.

Or it may be a certificate of compliance to buy bread without money (Isaiah 55).  It may be God’s equivalent to a union card, diploma, Visa card, or membership card.  A white stone was used in the initiation rites into the cult of Asklepios.  Like an M.D. degree certificate?  It was your online PhD.

Or it could be a banquet invitation.

Or it may refer to the practice of juries voting by casting white or black stones into an urn.  If there was one more white stone, the defender was acquitted or pardoned.  Jesus may be saying that He gives the final vote on your life.  He has the tie‑breaker.

Or the white stone may be the one that winners received at the public games.  Their name was written on the stone like a trophy and it gave them the right to public support for the rest of their lives.

Or the white stone could mean a combination of these and refer to a change in character.  Jesus makes us holy, white, beautiful, durable, and everlasting.  Maybe we are the white stone and Jesus gives us life.

Or it may refer to the stone of friendship.  When special friends made a vow to each other they would use a white piece of wood, bone, ivory, or stone.  They would break it and write a name on the friend’s piece.

There are 2 words for new in the NT.  The “new” used here is the one that means a new nature, not a recent or younger model.  You may get a new car, but the word used here for new name is new in the sense of a new method of transportation, a neutral gravitational solar teletransport capsule.  Now that would be new!  (Eph 4:24 vs. 2:15; 2 C 5:17; Rev 5:9; 3:12; 21:1, 2, 5)  The new name you receive is not just different from the name you have now, but a new kind of name.  It’s a new way to be identified.

18-29  The longest letter is sent to the church in the smallest city.  The city of Thyatira was the least spectacular of the 7 churches.  It was a roadside town between Pergamum and Sardis.  Everyone went through Thyatira to go to someplace else.

There were no hills around to defend the city, but there was a small Roman garrison there to slow down any armies that might be going to more important places.  They did not worship Caesar here.  There were very few temples.

Thyatira was a commercial center.  They had enjoyed peace for 200 years. There were more trade guilds here than any other Asian city.  They had unions for wool workers, linen workers, dyers, leather workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave dealers, bronze smiths, robe workers, and others we do not know about.  Every industry seemed to have its own union god.  It was a city of businessmen, salesmen, and hard workers.  Lydia was a seller of dye from here.  The dye was made from the madder root that grew well in this valley.

Here was the problem for the church.  How far can Christians compromise with the world?  When do we stop being all things to all men?  It was like you trying to be a dairyman without belonging to the coop or the Grange.  If you failed and they succeeded it was because you did not worship their god.  If their business had a down turn it was because their god was angry at you.  You could be blamed for everything.

Jesus reveals Himself to this church as the Son of God, not the god of the sun (Zeus had lightning bolts).  His eyes are like fire and penetrate the motives of the heart.  He is a Divine judge.

Like the “son of God” protected the 3 friends of Daniel in the furnace so today this ‘son of God” protects the faithful.  It is OK to trust Jesus for economic welfare.

2:19  Jesus knows.  He gives much more praise than blame.  They had love for God, the poor, the distressed.  They held true to the grace they had received.  Their love resulted in ministry to many.  Their faith resulted in perseverance in well doing.

2:20  The problem is that they tolerate a wicked group or an influential woman.  Like Pergamum they were tolerant to a group of false teachers or wicked woman.  Look closely at what this woman was doing.  She is encouraging compromise for economic reasons.  She said something like, “The union gods really have no power.  It is all superstition.  You can do what the world is doing as long as you keep your heart right.”  She may have thought she was teaching truth.

She took it upon herself to teach everyone what she believed and how it was a reasonable improvement on the plain gospel.  Those who follow her teaching become part of the idolatrous world system.  It is this economic world view that is condemned.

The result of her teaching and seduction was that Christians would commit immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols with their bodies and keep their hearts right.  What does that mean?

1.  They were seeking something beside God.  You commit immorality by seeking your own desires rather than seeking God.  You become your own god.

2. They were being casual to sin.  They were not taking sin seriously. They were not realizing the danger of playing with Ouija boards, séances, tarot cards, palm reading, astrology, meditation, altered states of consciousness.  They were playing in Satan’s toy box.

2:24  There were some faithful not tricked into believing they had to “come to know by experience” the deep things of Satan.  Some have stayed true.  These believe there are some things you do not need to know.  There are some things you do not need to see or hear.  There are some places you do not need to go.  There are some books you do not need to read.

It is not just how you die that makes you an overcomer.  It is how you live.  A life of faith is victory.  We can be victorious while suffering earthly defeat.

2:28  “The star, that of the morning” is Jesus Himself.  The star was a metaphor for a king and was associated with the messianic reign.

God’s repentant church will be like The Morning Star.  As each one honors God by living a holy life, we as a church will be a brilliant light set on a hill for all to see.  Let us let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven.  Be loving, but do not tolerate sin.  Stand steadfast for the good.

Amos 6:6 seems to describe our world today and maybe some churches.

“Woe to those addicted to feeling good—life without pain!

Woe to those obsessed with looking good—life without wrinkles!”

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