REVELATIONS -Part 2 -Message By Pastor Rob Inrig from Bethany Church in Richmond, BC October 2, 2022
Updated: Jan 21
THE WORD OF GOD IS ALIVE AND ACTIVE, SHARPER
THAN ANY DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD Heb 4:12
This morning we continue our beginning steps into the book of Revelation. In truth, we should spend more time in the parts of God’s Word we are looking at over the next while but for several reasons, we will just be taking a high-altitude look. So with a disclaimer that we won’t be unpacking all things, let’s consider what God would have us see this morning.
The book of Revelation is given to us thru the pen of John who is told to write things down:19 within the framework of things that were - the revelations of Christ, chap 1, things that are – the revelations of the church, chaps 2 & 3 and things that are to come, chap 4 onward – “after these things”. But what we are told, comes to us as the revelation OF Jesus Christ, FROM Jesus Christ 1:1
In this revelation of Jesus, John is driven off his feet, falling as dead before Jesus who, we are told, shines with the glory of a full-strength sun, his eyes like a flame of fire, his feet like burnished bronze. Before John is given any understanding of what is ahead, he first needs a revelation of who Jesus is – His power and His glory and that it is He who holds the future - no matter how uncertain that may feel or how troubling that may look. He is the ALPHA and OMEGA – the beginning and the end who spoke the world into existence, who raises kings and sets them down; who changed water into wine just by thinking it so and who, one day will destroy Satan and all HIS enemies, by the Word of His mouth. This is Jesus who holds the church, who holds the keys to death and Hell, who holds what was created and what will be created. Holding it all. Not Jesus, meek and mild but victorious Jesus in full glory.
It is this glorified Jesus we see walking among the 7 churches we are given in chaps 2 & 3. These churches are both specific and representative as they talk to us both as individuals and as a church. Geographically, they are situated in Turkey, a location Joanne and I visited some years back.
In the descriptors of these churches, there is a pattern – the Lord revealing Himself in a manner consistent with what He sees; a commendation about what He sees; a condition He uncovers, an action that is required and an outcome that will result.
The 1st church we look at is Ephesus, but to understand the church, we need to understand the city. Ephesus was a major port with a long and impressive walkway from the harbour to the city center with colonnades lining the street. This city had it all – as the banking center and the center of occult and pagan rituals – Temple of Diana 7 wonders of the World. Prominent in the walkway was ever-present testimony to its idolatry and Emperor worship. Ephesus’ ruins have some amazing remains - the Celcus Library with walls 20’ thick to protect a collection of 20,000 scrolls and on the front edifice, large, ornate carvings in the pillars and the entrance ways of gods and heroes. Ephesus was also the cultural and entertainment center – its huge amphitheatre (24,000) was acoustically rich. It was here the silversmith Demetrius rallied citizens against the apostle Paul when he delivered demons from a young girl who told fortunes and as a result, Demetrius lost his meal ticket.
To this Mecca-like city of many gods, Jesus says, I AM the One who has walked your walkways, however, I look behind what you want to present, behind the things you designed for people to see. You, whose gods are encased in immovable stone; you who take pride in your wealth, your power, your wisdom; you who see yourself as an unstoppable gateway into the riches of the world because of your mighty harbour.
Ruines of The First Church of Ephesus in Revelations,
Located in Turkey
And in this surround, seemingly, an incredible church! As Christ notes - I know your deeds, your toil, your perseverance. You test and uncover false teachers; you hate evil. You are committed to truth. And you persevere. In so many ways, Ephesus you’re the model church, the type others visit to look at ministries done well and to emulate programs that worked. Large. Busy. Biblically centric. All appears so good. Everyone looking on would say – so impressive.
But as impressive as Ephesus seemed to be culturally, economically, and strategically, the river harbour that provided entrance to the city was unknowingly silting up and it wouldn’t be long before the amphitheatre would be empty and the marketplace deserted. The city would die.
Ruines of the Temple of Diana
And as Jesus walks among the church, His assessment is no different - your deeds done and your performances celebrated - impressive. Your reputation for holding firmly to the truth? - well earned. But as significant as you think them to be, they’re not – instead you’ve become a good-looking facade going through the motions because you’ve lost your First Love.
Lost the vibrancy of your love for Christ. Lost your awe of the One who saved you. Lost your passion for being forgiven and transformed. You’re silting up and losing the Cross before which you once bowed. And without the cleansing blood of the Cross, there is NO life. You perform but you don’t treasure. You busy yourself but you don’t bow. You sing but you don’t worship.
Just busyness. Just activity. Just silt. And Christ’s command, Remember from where you have fallen and Repent so you can know life again. In modern thought, repenting is such an old-fashioned word that speaks of sin. And yet, repenting is where we own our unrighteousness before a Holy God and in that place of our unworthiness discovering God’s incomprehensible, redeeming love.
He who has an ear to hear - listen and return! Overcome by making 1st things 1st. Repent and return to the wonder and worship you’ve lost. And then, as if in contrast, John brings us to our next city,
SMYRNA which in many ways rivalled Ephesus. It wanted to be known as a city of firsts that replicated and honoured Rome. Her coins bore the inscription, 1st city in Asia in size and beauty. Here they were first to build a temple to Deo Roma, the mother goddess of Rome; first to build a Temple to Augustus; first to honour Tiberius and many other firsts followed.
Smyrna was a resurrected city. Destroyed in an earthquake in 580 BC, it was rebuilt in 290. Proud of its rebirth, it was known for its Myrrh, a holy anointing oil, used among other things, to bring honour and fragrance even in the place of death. Literature of the day depicts Smyrna as a city of great wickedness and tremendous opposition to Christians. With its focus on Rome, Emperor worship was prominent; doing business required offerings to Caesar. Any who refused were opposed and persecuted. It was also seen as an intellectual center – the hometown of Homer.
The ancient city of Smyrna in Western Turkey
Jews were exempt from worshipping Caesar as were Christians because they were seen as a subset of the Jews but in AD 70 this changed. Jews turned on these ‘Christians’, reporting them as enemies of Caesar. As far as they were concerned, these ‘Jews by birth were not.’ And so they were banned from the Synagogue and all associations. The property was taken and the opportunity to earn a wage was gone. It was in Smyrna, (Izmir as we now know it) where Polycarp was challenged to, “Swear by Caesar. Repent, and say, ‘Down with the Atheists!’” referring to Christians who refused to acknowledge Caesar as a god.
Instead, Polycarp looked at the multitude in the stadium, and gesturing towards them, he said, “Down with the Atheists!” “Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.” Polycarp’s response? “86 years have I have served him and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” True to the fragrance found in its name, Smyrna became a place of persecution and death for Christ's followers.
Increasingly, the persecution of Christians is on the rise. In NA, Christians are often characterized as hateful and intolerant but in other parts of the world, the situation is far worse. Voice of the Martyrs reports that 245M Christians experience high levels of persecution in countries on the World Watch list. In a 2019 report, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt says much the same thing. We hear it in declarations of India’s PM Modi, President Xi in China or Turkey’s Erdogan who have made their intentions clear by eliminating all things Christian whether the destruction of property, imprisonment, terror or death. And we see it in countries like N Korea and Nigeria. These countries express sentiments similar to Erdogan’s statement, that Christians are a threat to our nation.
But in these countries, as in Smyrna, despite terrible opposition, the church is growing and alive, the faith and love that is missing in Ephesus - in abundance in Smyrna. The enemy crushing, the Lord using that crushing as His fragrance to bring many to Christ. Believers who fully know Who they believe and Why they believe. Belief like this only occurs as we bow to Jesus as Lord – in everything. Our lives are His regardless of what comes.
NB how Christ identifies Himself, to this city of 1sts – I AM the First and the Last - the One who determines the beginning and the end. You see yourself as the ‘resurrected city’, once dead but now reborn. But I AM the LIVING and RESURRECTED ONE – who was dead and is alive. You see yourself as powerful and rich, anointed with fragrant attraction but I AM the ANOINTED one.
And to those believers experiencing tribulation and poverty, Jesus’ words, tho you have lost much, “You are rich”. My riches are yours in abundance – perhaps not seen yet but yours to come.
Be faithful until death by seeing Jesus far greater than a flannelgraph Jesus, a Superbook Jesus or a quick, I’m here to say Hi Jesus – and you will be anointed with the Crown of Life, as only the Resurrected One can give. You’ve been anointed with everlasting life that the 2nd death can’t touch.
John now takes us from the authentic to the concerning, Pergamum, a city set on a hilltop, a city like the NY of its day. Pagan temples existed everywhere – 3 chief among them: 1 dedicated to the worship of the Roman emperor, another to Athena, and another, the Great Altar of Zeus where sacrifices were held 24 hours a day. Pergamum also featured a university with a medical school, the Asklepium, testimony to Asclepius, the god of serpents and healing. His priests wore a necklace with a medallion shaped like a serpent. Here, believing snakes brought healing, non-venomous snakes crawled over the sleeping bodies of those put in a trance in their quest to be made well.
The ancient city of Pergamum in Turkey
Pergamum was also seen as the center of knowledge – the library had 200,000 scrolls. A city that loved ideas, with a myriad of gods. It was an idol city. Rome had given Pergamum the power of the sword - the justice of capital punishment – so the sword had become her symbol.
Worshipping god meant indulging in whatever brought pleasure, sexual immorality an essential part of the lifestyle. Note Jesus’ characterization – it’s the city where Satan dwells, the surrounding culture as evil as it comes, and truth just an arbitrary, accommodating concept. To this church Christ calls, Repent and I will give you the hidden manna, a white stone and a new name. Rev 2:17
In that city, we are told of a man called Antipas, once a follower of Asclepius, who now as a follower of Jesus, cast out demons and came against the beliefs to which Pergamum was devoted. Ridiculed of his new faith, he was advised: "Antipas, the whole world is against you!" Antipas replied: "Then I am against the whole world!"
Refusing to renounce his faith in Christ, Antipas was roasted alive in Zeus’ hollow metal bull heated by a bonfire under its belly. Smoke emanated from the bull’s nostrils, typically amplifying victims’ moans that sounded like an angry bull but on this occasion, no sound of moaning came. Instead the sounds of Antipas’ prayers for Christians to stand strong and for others to come to faith.
Standing strong like we are called to do, “in the last days when everyone will do what is right in their own eyes.” A time when the truth is situational rather than absolute; where alternate lifestyles are a personal choice and morality is determined by majority opinion rather than absolute standard. Make no mistake – you and your children/grandchildren are immersed in a culture that increasingly stands in opposition to the things of God. Many of you work in places where you contend with this on a daily basis. Sexual immorality tends to be the new morality. Sexual identity is determined by what’s chosen not by what’s given and fashion is more by what’s revealed rather than what’s covered. And belief? - whatever works for you.
To this church, Jesus declares, I AM the ONE with the sharp two-edged sword. Jesus’ truth isn’t dependent on my viewpoint, my wisdom, or my wants. Instead, He reminds, Jn 1:1, In the beginning, was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The I AM is the Truth. Heb 4:12 tells us that God's word is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.
So people of Pergamum, find your ‘truth’ and wisdom in your books and healing arts. Run after all your pleasures and indulgences. Gaze into the skies and call on your magic arts. Look for power and blessing from these stone gods that you built and worship; the work of your hands and the images of your mind. But know this, the things you are following will bring destruction; where you are running is into Satan’s throne. And I will come against Satan, all that he represents and all that follows after him.
Church – you hold fast to MY name and haven’t denied the faith despite the evil that surrounds you and the fear that is real. The beacons of faith among you are strong and good YET, you have some who tolerate the teaching of Balaam. You are doing well in what you are keeping out but you are turning a blind eye to what’s within – the actions of some who actively infect and destroy. Is interesting Jesus warns this church against the god of tolerance worshipped today? Not tolerance where we differ but tolerance among Christians where we accept things God tells us are sins.
Berlin's Pergamum Museum 'Satan's throne'
The story is told in Num 22-24 where the Moabite king, Balak hired Ballam to curse Israel. His plan failed but what followed didn’t when Israel intermarried with the Moabites, eating food offered to idols and taking their gods. They didn’t deny God, they just didn’t fully embrace Him so they could indulge in the pleasures everyone else seemed to enjoy. Tolerating and mixing truth with a lie – and in that accommodation, living a divided life – sometimes adding on to what God said and other times, just ignored, with the result they had their ‘God life’ and their ‘other’ life.
much different than what we are prone to do redefining God to be someone more understanding of our needs. • A “He’ll understand” God, so we can step into that relationship because it promises the love we deserve. • An accommodating God, so we can embrace that opportunity because those around us are doing it. Rationalizing and justifying.
That’s what Jesus was speaking to when he referenced the Nicolatians who were teaching their gospel of a divided heart – ‘this much God’ and ‘this much of whatever makes me happy’. Disconnected from the anchor of God’s Word, this belief calls us to determine our actions and beliefs through the eyes of surrounding culture rather than through the eyes of God. And to this, Christ’s call quit deceiving yourselves and repent; admit your sin and repent. Know this, I am coming quickly, without warning; without alerts, so turn from what destroys and turn to the One who forgives”. Now, while there’s still time. Now, because I am coming quickly. To that one, I give a white stone. Black and white stones were often used in court to render the verdict – white - signifying Not Guilty. In addition to the white stone, a new name. My identity in Christ. That new name as a forgiven child of God tells me this:
Search Google as aggressively as you want. Set Siri and Alexa loose to find whatever they can but past identities no longer exist, and no charges will ever be found – your identity has been completely changed. What a great picture – no matter where you have been, or what you’ve done, when you repent, you are offered everything Christ says – a new name, a white stone and hidden manna.
Going from worse to worst, we come to the city of THYATIRA which was a guild city. Participating in guilds meant that you took on the business, social and religious habits of guild life. Not unlike a fraternity or sorority, behaviours went with the territory. Shared business life, shared social life, and shared meals. Idol worship was prominent as were drunkenness and immorality. When you ate, you thanked the gods, then partook in the meat that was first offered to idols. Pay your dues, pray your allegiance and indulge in the debauchery of the party made available to you. In short, their identity was your identity. You wear their colours. You chant their chants.
Ruines of the ancient city of Thyatira in Western Turkey
In modern parlance, it’s capitulating to the belief that compromise is just the price of doing business – only this went far beyond a casual lever pull at the slot machine. This was road travel with all that presented – only the adult entertainment wasn’t a computer click away or a pay-per-view channel, this was part of the benefits package of guild life.
Should you choose not to participate, the job market was closed to you. One of the ways you expressed worship to the gods was by indulging in sexual activities with the Temple prostitutes – pray, stay and play. Your identity is indistinguishable from everyone else punching their time clocks.
And the church in Thyatira is a little different from the workplace. There are some similarities to the church we looked at in Pergamum but here we see where compromise takes us. While Jesus suggests that Pergamum had some who hold to a lifestyle of compromise, there’s none of that distinction here. This church hasn’t just remained silent regarding sin, this church has embraced sin, living far removed from what God calls Christians to. The reference to Jezebel demonstrates how deep the roots of sin have gone. They’ve become seduced with an airbrushed view of God - a God of never-ending LOVE no matter what the situation and no matter what our actions. After all, “How could a loving God send people into an everlasting Hell?” A study released earlier this year of 1,000 US Christian pastors Cultural Research Center found that only 37% have a biblical worldview, a similar number believing that one can earn a place in Heaven.
To this church, Jesus comes, returning to how he is seen in Rev 1 – with eyes of flaming fire and feet of burnished bronze. A Holy God of power and righteousness. A Holy God who will judge those who refuse to confess sin. Jesus’ words to this church 22,23 leave no ambiguity - He will not tolerate sin. His Holiness demands judgment yet His grace reminds you, again and again when you repent, His Holiness is satisfied.
Jesus concludes His words to the church of Thyatira with hope and a promise, I will give him the ‘morning star’. It’s the star that appears when the night is darkest. Its light intensifying as it takes over the night. That tells me that Jesus can transform the darkest life and shine His brilliance through that person to accomplish the amazing. But there’s a better understanding of this name given us elsewhere in Scripture 2 Pet 1:19 which tells us Jesus is our morning star – signalling that the dawn is just ahead. Morning is coming
So what do we do with all this? Is this just a walk through an archeological dig – looking at some churches that once were or could it be that Jesus is asking us to walk with Him as He looks at our lives, asking us, not as a church but as an individual, asking:
• Is it time we get honest with where I am with Jesus? Is he calling me to restore my love for Him? Is He calling me to see Him as He truly is and bow to Him as Lord? And in that return to His great love, love and worship Him as He is due. Some here may need to hear His re-assurance:
• I know the struggles and difficulties you are going through and how hard life is. I know the opposition you face and all the things you have lost. And though you may not see it now, continue holding on, it will be worth it all. I’ll carry you. I’ll provide it for you. Well done in remaining true. For some, you need to look closely:
•Is Jesus saying, you’re allowing compromise to settle in and are being seduced by things that will harm? You are beginning to tolerate what shouldn’t be tolerated as you live with a divided heart – ‘this much God’ and ‘this much whatever else.’ Make things right and trust My leading. Do it now before you go any further down a path that will do you incomprehensible harm – in your marriage, in your relationships, and the damage, you’re doing to yourself. Repent and turn around. And finally:
• Is Jesus pressing in on you, making it clear, you’ve allowed sin to sink some very deep roots? Though others may not know, you do – no matter what you’ve been telling yourself. And today is the day to finally come clean. Now – while there’s time. Jesus coming to be your Morning Star to clean you, change you and bring you new life. But that means, no longer playing the game where you are deceiving yourself and instead coming to bow as a sinner before Jesus who is waiting to forgive.
And perhaps some here today have never made the most important step of faith that could ever be made and this morning you want to change that by asking Jesus to come into your heart and make you a new person in Him. Making you a child of God, saved by the shed blood of Jesus on the Cross to forgive your sins and giving you the assurance of everlasting life with Christ.
This morning what are you going to do?
Jesus’ call is REPENT. And His Promise? - to give you His white stone – ‘no longer guilty’ and His new name - a child of God; to give you Life and God’s hidden manna to provide for you as you walk through life; and to give you His morning star as the assurance for the glory that is ahead. And so much more.
I AM the first and the last, the Living One.
I was dead and behold, I am alive forevermore! 1:17,18