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Revelation chp 3 vs 7 to 13 - Philadelphia - Surprising Origins and Unexpected Destinies - JS Gillespie - 17112021  

Philadelphia shines brightly against a backdrop of dark and dismal failure. The unqualified commendation of this church after so much correction and condemnation comes as a striking and refreshing surprise. It does not follow the pattern of past failure. As is so often the case, when God's grace blows afresh on glowing embers it is impossible to predict how high these glorious flames will rise. David was sent on a simple earned of delivering bread and cheese to his brothers in 1 Samuel 17 but this led to victory against Goliath and the path to the throne. Saul headed down the road to Damascus breathing out threats and murder but ended his journey preaching Christ as Saviour.

The key to the success of Philadelphia lay in their likeness to Christ. They kept His word and honoured His name; a path of truth and holiness (3:7). When the door was opened they were ready and waiting to go through that door. 

The door was undoubtedly one to mission and ministry, service and success in evangelism. As with all service, which can at times be onerous, involving sacrifice and commitment, service was the direction and not the ultimate destiny. The end point of this journey, opened by David's anointed with the keys was the heavenly Jerusalem and God's eternal presence. They were to become pillars in the place of holiness.

Sardis - The Shame of a Name - Revelation chp 3 vs 1 to 6 - Dr J Stewart Gillespie  

Insensitive to the Spirit

Unresponsive to the Scriptures

Unenthusiastic in service 

Uninterested in the preaching of the Word of God 

Inactive in worship

Sardis may have had a name, a reputation of being the place to be, but it was a name, like the city, based on past glory and memories of the 'good ole days' which may not have been that good after all. Living in the past disengages us from being a David and "serving our generation." 

The path to recovery for Sardis lay not only in WHAT they knew but in returning to HOW they discovered the fresh fires of revival "remember therefore how thou hast received" (Rev 3:3). That HOW was by the experiential ministry of the 7 fold Spirit of God (Rev 3:1; Isaiah 11:1-2). God's Spirit brings the Divine into personal experience. He is the Spirit of: 

Intercession (Rom 8:26ff)

Revelation (John 16:15) 

Communication (1 Peter 4:11)

Education (1 Jo 2:27) 

Consolation (john 14:16) 

Transformation (2 Co3:18) 

Direction (Rom 8:1)

Without His ministry, Christian life becomes, dead dry and unresponsive.

The 7 Churches of Revelation - Revelation chapter 2 vs 1 to 7 - JS Gillespie  

The opening chapters of this great book of prophecy (Rev 1:3) describes 7 carefully arranged portraits of churches in the western part of modern day Turkey. It is possible to see in them a snap shot of the condition of the church historically. As we reflect upon them we are compelled to consider them practically; what kind of church am I in? Beyond this the challenge is surely to consider these churches personally; what am I in my church? It comes as little surprise to realise that the book of Revelation begins as it continues; that is prophetically. These 7 churches sketch out the history of the western Christian church for the past 2000 years:

 

Ephesus - the early Apostolic Church

Smyrna - the church persecuted under successive Roman Emperors

Pergamos - the mixed marriage of professing Christianity and paganism triggered by the professed conversion of Constantine.

Thyatira - the development of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy

Sardis - the rediscovery of truth and reformation 

Philadelphia - the explosion of evangelism through the open door of mission in the 18th to 20th century

Laodicea - the self contented, self amused and financially prosperous western church of today 

 

The problems with the church began early with Ephesus. Right at the beginning Christ presents Himself as He ought to be considered and honoured; at the centre of His church; tragically from this His people have drifted in heart. Here lie the source of 2 millenia of problems.

Revelation chapter 2 verses 18 to 29 - Thyatira and the Error of the Altar - JS Gillespie  

Thyatira prophetically follows on after Pergamos; the church of the mixed marriage. The period of Thyatira relates to that phase of the church during which Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy develops. Constantine after his profession of Christianity imported many pagan practices into the church; the 3 greatest of which were:

 

  1. The Error of the Altar
  2. The Error of the Priesthood 
  3. The Error of the understanding of God 

 

The error of the altar infers that the work of Christ is not complete and requires repetition or a contribution from us. This is the problem underlying the failures at Thyatira. The church is characterised by works, works and more works, motivated quite possibly by a desire to earn salvation.

In the multicultural and apathetic setting of Thyatira, to some Jesus became one amongst many Gods and His uniqueness became blurred. Unlike Apollo, the patron God of Thyatira Jesus was not 'a' Son of God but Christ is 'THE' Son of God! He is:

  • Unique in His birth
  • Unique in His death
  • Unique in His sinless humanity 
  • Unique in His resurrection 
  • Unique in His miracles
  • Unique in His claim to be the way of salvation 
  • Unique in the testimony of scripture
  • Unique in His impact on history 

Let us see the uniqueness of His Person 

Let us understand the uniqueness and completeness of His work

 

Smyrna - Confidence in Catastrophe  

 

Much could be said of Smyrna 

Smyrna from the Greek word Myrrh from the Hebrew word  ‘mor’ for bitterness. 

What was a fragrant perfume: 

Psalm 45:8 
Prov 7:17 
Song of Solomon 1:13; 5:5 

 was also a bitter resin. 

Myrrh was a bitter tasting perfume, both bitter and fragrant, herein is the paradox of Smyrna! 

A church that suffers! 

  • Tribulation (v9) 
  • Poverty (v9) 
  • Suffer (v10) 
  • Trial (v10) 
  • Tribulation (v10) 
  • Death (v10) 

One aspect of Smyrna perhaps not so often considered is the importance or value of understanding, insight, ‘philosophy,’ the importance of a right outlook on life, the right perspective on life. 

The power of the mind 

‘Man’s search for meaning’ – Viktor Frankyl 

Survival not only dependant on physical strength or endurance but also dependant on the mindset of the person; eg Christmas 1944 – many died. 

“everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms – to choose ones attitude in any given set of circumstances, to chose one’s own way.” 

“Ever more people today have the means to live but no meaning to live for” 

“Those who have a why to live can bear with almost any how” (Nietzsche) 

“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer” 

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances but only by lack of meaning and purpose” 

“If there is meaning in life at all then there must be meaning in suffering” 

“we who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 

The ministry to Smyrna, highlights the importance of ministry. 

The importance of right thinking and of Bible teaching. 

The importance of looking behind the immediate set of circumstances and experiences. 

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances but only by lack of meaning and purpose” 

“If there is meaning in life at all then there must be meaning in suffering” (V Frankyl) 

One of the great issues to which Smyrna introduces us is that subject of suffering; the problem of pain. 

Herein lies one of the great arguments against God, a problem that discourages men from faith in God and discourages the faith of those who trust in God. 

An argument formulated by Greek philosopher Epicurus: 

“Is God willing to prevent evil but not able – He is not omnipotent. 

If He is able but not willing then He is malevolent 

If He is both able and willing then whence cometh evil? 

If He is neither able nor willing then why call Him God?” 

 although perhaps most succinctly put by CS Lewis: 

If God is good He ought to desire His people to be happy. 

If God is all powerful He ought to be able to make His people happy 

If His people are not happy then: 

               God is not good 

               God is not all powerful 

               God is not 

On the surface a fairly straightforward and robust argument but one which suffers from at least 5 failings: 

It is a moral argument – if there is no God as the argument suggests you are going to have a difficult time in shoring up your idea of morality! You are going to flounder to prove that unhappiness is bad, bad for you but maybe good for me. Cutting lives short for example may well reduce the sum total suffering of that life and the effect of that life on others. 

 

It is a logical argument – what makes you think that a random universe can throw together a brain of atoms, undesigned and unchecked against any standard that results in being able to draw any reasonable conclusion about anything? 


The solution lies in the argument that happiness is dependent on goodness – herein is the simplest point! The argument presumes that a good God desires happiness, ie happiness is dependant on goodness; thus absolute happiness is dependent on absolute goodness; a condition we do not have. We cannot have a square circle! A square circle remains absurd even if we prefix it with the term ‘God’ or not. A fallen world is the consequence of free choice, to have no fall is to have no choice, to have no choice is to have no humanity. You cannot have it both ways. 

 

It limits the sovereignty of God restricting God to act in a way and using means which only ever act to result in happiness, immediate pleasure. What makes you assume that God is so small that He cannot work all things according to His own will, even the rebellion of men? 

 

It assumes that no ultimate good can come from sorrow, sadness and suffering. Suffering and sacrifice can ultimately bring good. 

It is these later 2 points that we see at Smyrna. 

That God is able to use the trials and the tears, the suffering and pain, sorrow and the sadness for our good and His Glory and that from the deep and difficult experiences of life there does and can emerge meaning and purpose and Glory. 

               

The view of God that others have of Him is at times way too small; your trials and afflictions are ordered, defined and determined cf Daniel 9:24-27 

They are all bookended within the purposes and plans of He who is the first and the last. 

The idea that suggests that if evil happens then God is not in control is wrong on so many levels; one of which is that God is so omnipotent, so in control that He is able to work the purposes of men into the fabric of sovereign purposes to bring about the fulfilment of His will! 

They have the ministry of a Person 

Their Suffering is Defined 

‘first and last’ – setting the boundaries 

There is nothing so difficult to cope with than a trial which seems to: 

Have no real meaning / origin, no definite course / beginning, no purpose, pointless. 
No prospect of an end in view 

Christ sets the limits 

There is purpose 

There is a prospect 

Time and experience are defined by the boundary conditions I set for it! 

A Person, pre-eminent and in control 

Purpose and Presidency 

A ministry of empathy 

He understands 

He ‘was dead and is alive’ 

He has been there! 

Suffering destroyed by victory! Destiny - In this there is the promise of victory! 

Death is not the end 

Suffering is not final 

“was dead and is alive” 

Suffering Discerned : “I Know” 

Define, redefine, reframe what you mean by ‘rich’ by success, don’t just judge your life by the material. 

Discouragement – don’t get discouraged by the opinion of others, take a step back and consider God’s opinion of them; what does God think about those who think about you (v9)? 
This trial is defined and limited to 10 days – 10 years of intense persecution? 10 persecuting emperors? 10 specific days for Smyrna? 
Results – from affliction comes fruitfulness (v10); from faithfulness, a crown of life, 
Do not fear the suffering (v10) – the fear can be greater than the reality! 
The story is not over until it is over (v11); “should not be hurt of the 2nd death”   

There is the prospect and promise of victory. 

Here is the antedote to despair – a correct perspective 

‘good things happen to good people’ 

What’s the point – I’ve done everything correct and now look at the mess that I’m in! 

The perspective that difficult circumstances are evidence of Divine displeasure brings despair and defeat. 

That perspective is of course not necessarily correct as is evidenced in the life of Christ. 

Let’s look a little deeper, take a glimpse behind the veil, looking behind the appearance to reality. 

This is the path the Saviour trod (v8) 
There is material poverty (v9) but spiritual wealth (v9). Behind the appearance of the material lies the eternal and the spiritual! It is a great error to conflate the two! 
Might is not right (v9) just because they are powerful does not mean that they are right. 
Satan is behind the attack (v10) 

Purpose 
Perspective

Pergamos and the Virus of Compromise - Revelation chp 2 vs 12 to 17 - JS Gillespie  

 

The 3rd of 7 churches in Revelation chps 2 + 3 

The tactics so far from Satan have been: 

Drive a wedge between the believer and Christ – Ephesus. 

Distance from a person rather than a passion 
Not really about quantity / quality but rather reality 
It’s the old error back again – substitution and distraction (v7) 
Distraction from the true centre – the tree of life rather than the attractive centre of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. 
‘left’ : ‘aphiemi’ – used 148 X in the NT almost always of leaving a person or an object rather than a principle or attribute 

 

Persecution and attack – Smyrna 

 

Compromise – probably the most successful tactic so far! 

 

Pergamos – can be translated as marriage, although some maintain that it ought not to be translated as marriage but rather as citadel. 

‘per’ – mixed 

‘gamos’ – marriage 

 

The fact that it could be translated as marriage is nonetheless interesting since that would fit very well with what appears to have been happening at this church; union between church and the pagan world around it! 

Pergamos would relate to that period of the church prophetically beginning with the professed conversion of Constantine and the Edict of Milan 313 AD 

With the conversion of Constantine, this created a massive problem. Constantine was himself regarded as a god and headed up the whole Roman cultic system! 

What do you do with paganism when the man at the top of the system gets converted? 

The old paganism was adopted into Christianity. 

Old pagan priests, places, practices were all Christianised. 

Christian buildings with altars and idols 
Altars 
Priests 
Holy water 
Rosary 
Mother and child cult 
The mysteries, sacramentum, sacraments – mystery of the mass and baptism 
Symbolism of saints 
Purgatory 

Pergamos is one of the 7 churches with serious problems, although not necessarily with a terminal prognosis. 

A serious illness but not a terminal prognosis. 

For the first time and the only time to these 7 churches Christ presents Himself as the one with the “sharp sword with two edges.” 

The sharp sword proceeding from His mouth (1:16) – the Word of God (Heb 4:12) 

Here is the sword of discernment 

Christ decides 

Christ discerns 

Christ divides 

He is able to discern and divide even when they are not. 

Here is the need of the moment met by Christ. 

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not…” (James 1:5ff) 

This is a sword that will not only bring judgment but will also bring salvation by separation! 

Vs 13 – The setting, circumstances and Satan 

Sometimes Christians struggle and fail where we haven’t but perhaps they have fallen and failed in circumstances and under pressures and trials through which we have never passed! 

 

Perhaps we have not fallen like them 

Perhaps we have not been tested like them! 

Their circumstances, intricately linked with Satan; ‘where Satan’s seat is’ (v13) 

‘seat’ : throne: ‘θρόνος’ 

Is it a specific place at Pergamos? 

There are certainly plenty of contenders for that title: 

Altar of Zeus and Athena – the great altar of Pergamon; massive altar on the hillside. 

Zeus – the head of the Greek Pantheon of gods; the ‘god of gods’ in paganism according to Plato; behind the idol are devils (1 Co 10:20); Clement made the conceptual leap that since Zeus is the head of the false gods, he must be Satan! 
The Pergamon altar excavated by a German archaeologist and transported to Berlin in the early 1900’s, opened in the Pergamon museum in 1930. This became the inspiration behind the design for Alberts Speir’s Nuremberg stadium from which Hitler made his first public declaration of the ‘final solution.’ 

Temple of Asclepius 

2nd largest temple in the Asian world to the cult of Asclepius 
Symbolised by the serpent on the pole; serpent = Satan? 
Treatment at the temple involved lying on the floor under the influence of hypnotics and allowing snakes from the temple to crawl over you. Not that hugely effective but a great way of keeping the waiting lists down. 

Temples to the Emperor cult – Augustus, Roma 

Very dangerous and ominous 
A pinch of incense was required to be offered on the altar to Caesar 
A dangerous place for Christians to be! 
Some later writers suggest that it was this that Antipas fell foul of. 

Plenty of options – which one? 

Impossible to say. 

Surely the atmosphere of the entire city is that of idolatry, demonism and satanic influence? 

Pergamon is the Asiatic stronghold of Satan; perhaps in a similar way to Jerusalem being the city of the Lord! 

Antipas: 

Little in the way of details given of his martyrdom, but interestingly referenced externally in other Christian literature. 

Simon Metaphrastes, a Byzantine writer in the 10th century makes reference to the tradition that Antipas refused to offer a sacrifice to false gods, and refused to recant, that he was put inside a hollow brass bull and roasted alive and that he died under the persecution of Domitian. 

Antipas is also referenced by Tertullian in the 2nd century and Andrea’s of Caeserea in the 6th century 

There is also a later tradition that Antipas was challenged by his persecutors with; ‘behold the whole world is against you.’ Unphased by this Antipas is reputed to have replied ‘well that must mean that I am against the whole world!’ 

V14 – great pressure to compromise. 

The doctrine of Balaam – a doctrine of corruption and compromise 

Notice the power to overcome compromise: 

Discern: 

Doctrine 
Diet 
Desires 

Of the world around you 

If it arises from a world foreign to God then its ideas, philosophies, appetite and entertainments are immediately suspect. 

Almost by definition if it is good in the eyes of the world, it is probably bad! 

The Nicolaitans appear to promote exactly this: 

Iranaeus of Lyon; ‘Against the Heresis’ : “they lead lives of unrestrained indulgence.” 

Nicolaitans could also be literally translated as ‘nico’ – over and ‘laitanes’ – people – probably a double meaning here in the name – both literal and symbolic in the context of the prophetic meaning of the church. 

The encouragement and consolation: 

Hidden manna: the manna of the Holy of Holies: 

Hidden in the sanctuary 
Hidden under the mercy seat 
Hidden in the golden pot 

Here is the Divine provision for those excluded and uncompromising – feeding on the bread of life, the bread of God, the bread that came down form heaven. 

A distant experience of the world equates with a deeper experience of Christ. 

A ‘white stone’ and a ‘new name’ 

Is this a white stone for: 

Voting – white for innocent / black for guilty? 
Invitation – to a social gathering 
Reward for running well and winning – an entitlement to be kept at the publics cost for the rest of your life? 

Such interpretations are very dependant upon the serendipitous bequests of ancient history; not too struck on that idea. 

Probably a reference to the stones on the breast plate of the high priest. 

Not only are we guaranteed an appreciation of Christ but we are brought into communion in the sanctuary. 

A new name in recognition of our faithfulness to Christ? 

Was that not the case too for Simon Peter? 

Or Cephas? (Syriac) 

Or Psephos : 5586 : stone 

He was the stone with a new name! 

This ministry from Pergamos has enormous practical implications for us: 

It is possible to live for Christ even when circumstances appear impossible! It is possible but costly. 
Contrast this with Laodicea – it is not always easy to live for Christ when circumstances are easy! 
The danger to the church in difficult circumstances when oppression and persecution is present comes primarily from compromise rather than conflict; compare verse 14. The great enemy of compromise” 

Cf Israel and idols 
Cf. Demas and the world 
Cf. Priesthood and foreign brides in the days of Ezra 
Cf. Israel and Baal Peor 

Here is proof if you need it, of the words of Jesus: “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” 

Living out Christ in intense adversity 

Christ is able to discern and distinguish His people, all is not lost! He has the sharp two edged sword! 
Beware of Compromise in a society which is antithetical to the Word of God; the template for the Christian is that of “Antipas” – ‘against all’ ! 
Compromise is more dangerous than conflict! We are responsible for preserving the truth not for preserving ourselves! 
We must identify, define and reject: 

Doctrine from society 
Diet of that world 
Desires of that world 

Be confident that the Saviours words can be trusted; “I will build my church....” 2000 years later at Bergama – Zeus has gone, Aesclepius is but a symbol, the cult of Caesar regarded as a bizarre historical curiosity but still today there is a small Christian community in that city!