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The 7 Churches Mystery – Letter No. 7

THE LAODICEA LETTER

A whirlwind week...I’m not sure how we covered so much ground, but we raced ahead of gathering storms. Here we are at the end of our ‘mini-tour’ and visit to seven ancient church sites in Asia Minor. Our primary quest and purpose was to unravel mysteries and meanings found in 7 letters written to the 7 churches of Revelation Chapters 2 and 3. Along the way we ran into some challenging spiritual issues facing the Early Church. The 7 letters revealed to John of Patmos in a vision also introduced us to Jesus in a remarkable way. We hear vivid descriptions and some new names for Jesus: Ruler of All that is, was and ever more shall be; The Holder of the keys of Hell and Death; …One who is the First and Last,and whose eyes penetrated like flames of fire; …One who is Holy and True and has the Keys of David; The Faithful and True Witness; the One Who Stands Firm…  We also learn Jesus has a deep concern for His church which stirs our hearts like the Apostle Paul to press on…”… towards the high calling in Christ Jesus…

And now…we stand at the gates of the city of Laodicea and at the doors of the Laodicea Church (Revelation 3: 14-22) and hear Jesus’ warning cry: I KNOW YOU WELL. YOU ARE NEITHER HOT NOR COLD! HOW I WISH YOU WERE ONE OR THE OTHER, BUT SINCE YOU ARE MERELY LUKEWARM…I WILL SPEW YOU OUT…

How could things have come to this? To our dismay, we learn that the well-heeled and self-satisfied believers of the Laodicean Church seem to be kicking up their heels more than serving or loving God! This church has all the appearances of being a great place to be…if you want to join ‘a club’ (?!). But wait, does this mean this church actually believes it doesn’t really ‘need’ God because it has ‘everything’ …without Him? What’s going on? This church’s smugness and apathy is perhaps explained by the fact that the Laodicean Church in its day was surrounded by great affluence. They had it all, money and achievements, yet Jesus looks beyond appearances and delivers this church a grave report card: “…you aren’t what you think. You’re poor, blind and naked…Take my advice…and spiritual direction…” Jesus tells the Laodicean Church that He is ‘standing at the door…and knocking…’ (this may remind us of a story Jesus told during His earthly ministry about the Kingdom of heaven being like people invited to a wedding feast…but some ended up not prepared to meet the Bridegroom at the door…) (Matthew 25: 1-13).

Personal Deduction & Study

Read through Revelation 3: 14-22 once again. The Laodicea Church isn’t listening or looking for advice. They exude a tacit indifference to God. Do you see any parallels to this church and attitudes in the church today? Do you believe church is just a place to hang out and feel or look good? What is Jesus looking for in a church and in the lives of those who truly believe in His Word and desire to follow Him?

Clue Collection:

Collect your final #7 of 7 clues here and receive more of your amazing inheritance from God.

Thank you for being part of the Seven Churches Mystery exploration of 7 amazing Bible letters to 7 churches.  I trust this study inspired you to journey on further in faith, to continue to explore God’s Word, and to keep trusting in  Jesus.

“I am with you always…even to the end of the age…” Matthew 28: 16-18

Review other Churches:  Letter No. 1   Letter No. 2  Letters No. 3&4   Letter No. 5  Letter No. 6

© 2011 S. Michaels

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The 7 Churches Mystery – Letter No. 6

THE PHILADELPHIA LETTER

Time melts like molten gold on the Aegean Sea where we first met a few days ago with John of Patmos with plans to visit seven churches of Asia Minor, and to explore seven letters which John was invited in a vision to deliver to them. These Turkish churches appeared to John in his dream like ‘seven candlesticks’.(See Revelation, Chapters 2 and 3).  The vision of the churches as ‘candlesticks’ may remind us of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:14-16, where he spoke of people being ‘lights’ in the world.  We launched our mission with much excitement, starting out at Ephesus along the sea, then moving north to Smyrna and Pergamon, and then heading southeast and inland to Thyatira and Sardis. However, along the way, our pilgrimage has somehow left us with mixed feelings.

At first, we were encouraged by the large and active church at Ephesus, but we soon felt sad that in spite of their many good efforts, this  church had lost its love for God. Next, we met the suffering Smyrna Church, a church facing serious hardship and poverty. Our hearts broke to hear about their situation, but we were soon comforted by their stalwart faith and courage,  endurance and love. Next we stopped at three impressive churches, Pergamon, Thyatira and Sardis, who seemed to have it all together…at first…But we got a rude awakening. We found out about compromises of faith, including sex sin and immorality and were appalled to realize how blind these churches were to their spiritual condition. And now, our expedition moves on…to the ancient city of Philadelphia, ‘The City of Brotherly Love’, so named by Eumenes II, a king of Pergamon, in honour of his brother and successor, Attalus II. As we read this letter to Philadelphia we breathe a sigh of relief to hear the love and commendation of the Lord for this group of believers:

I KNOW YOU WELL. YOU AREN’T STRONG. BUT YOU HAVE TRIED TO OBEY ME AND HAVE NOT DENIED MY NAME…THEREFORE, I WILL OPEN A DOOR FOR YOU WHICH NO ONE CAN SHUT…

While it seems from our review of this letter that the Philadelphia Christians knew and experienced persecution (including from some who claimed to be ‘believers’ but were not), we also realize ‘it’s okay’. Amazingly and incredibly we can see that NOTHING seems to be able to shake this church’s  faith.  Jesus commends the Philadelphia Church for holding on to what is good, (even though they are not ‘strong’, and it seems incredible that they are able to hold on!) And Jesus also promises to protect and rescue this church from a time of ‘Great Tribulation’ “…which will come upon the whole world to test everyone alive.” These strangely prophetic words seem to imply that a terrible time of unprecedented global turmoil or a ‘time of the end’ will one day arrive. This is the second reference about an ‘end time’ in John’s vision, for the angel had spoken earlier, “Write down everything you see and hear…for the time is near when these things will all come true…” (Revelation 1:3).

Personal Deduction & Study

Read through this letter in Revelation 3: 7-14. Although this church isn’t strong, what has led Jesus to commend this group of believers so highly? What do you think is ‘the secret’ to this church’s faith that has helped them to ‘hold on’ to faith in spite of lacking personal strength? What ‘door’ do you think God will open for this church which no one can shut?

Clue Collection:

Collect #6 of 7 clues here, and discover more of  your heavenly riches and inheritance. (Hint: This part of your inheritance may remind you of John 14:2: In my Father’s house are many mansions…)

(Next up…our final letter – No. 7 The Laodicea Letter)

Review previous Churches:  Letter No. 1   Letter No. 2  Letters No. 3&4   Letter No. 5 

© 2011 S. Michaels


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The 7 Churches Mystery – Letter No. 5

THE SARDIS LETTER

It has been a rough and tumble trek into the heart of Asia Minor where we have come across the sites of old churches mentioned in the Bible’s book of Revelation, Chapters 2 and 3.  We have pored over ancient letters written to these churches, as revealed to John of Patmos in a vision. We have discovered spiritual challenges facing these churches, but also hopeful signs of faith in the churches at Ephesus and Smyrna. Then we ran into trouble at the churches in  Pergamon and Thyatira. Their faith was being compromised and imperiled by an open tolerance and acceptance of pagan culture and immorality. But there’s no time to lose. Like John of Patmos as he rapidly scribbled these letters to 7 churches, we know we must travel swiftly ahead…We get the feeling that somehow…time is running out.

Our fifth church is tucked away in a fortress city,  one of the most important cities of Asia Minor – Sardis. Sardis was considered impregnable to its enemies due to its mountainous terrain, yet the city’s history revealed a series of rulers, attackers and conquerors moving in — like Alexander the Great. Sardis eventually met its demise, but during its heydey, the city boasted wealth and resources galore — gold, fruit, and endless goods stocked up for strategic trade along the ancient Silk Road. But like Pergamon and Thyatira, Sardis finds itself enmeshed in pagan rituals. Sexual immorality abounds. Goddess worship (Artemis and the Anatolian earth goddess, Cybele) were ‘all the rage’ and everyone was going ‘gaga’ over idols,  (hey, that sounds a little like certain ‘role models’ we go wild over today, doesn’t it?). Well, one thing for certain, out of deep love and concern,  Jesus issues the Sardis Church a grave warning for their future: (Revelation 3: 1- 6):

I KNOW OF YOUR REPUTATION AS AN ‘ALIVE’ AND ACTIVE CHURCH…BUT YOU ARE DEAD!

Imagine John’s struggle to get these dire words down as he responded to careful instructions being revealed to him by…One who looked like Jesus; One who walks amongst the churches and holds their leaders in His right hand; One who is the First and the Last; One who wields a sharp and double-bladed sword (God’s Word); One who died and came back to life; One to whom belongs the seven-fold Spirit of God and the seven stars (the leaders of the 7 churches)… The warning continues: WAKE UP, NOW! STRENGTHEN WHAT LITTLE REMAINS! EVEN WHAT’S LEFT IS AT THE POINT OF DEATH! YOUR DEEDS ARE FAR FROM RIGHT IN GOD’S SIGHT! GO BACK…TO WHAT YOU BELIEVED AT FIRST! How could this be happening to a ‘church’!? The Sardis Church is getting a double warning and Jesus adds solemnly that He knows of only a few believers remaining in this church who are living right with God.  As for the others? Well, let’s just say, picture a big eraser and names being rubbed out of God’s Book of Life…(help!)

Personal Deduction & Study

Read through these letters again in Revelation 3: 1-6. What do you think landed the Sardis Church in such a serious mess? Do you think this church’s ‘great’ reputation was genuine or did it only come about as a result of compromising with popular culture? Is there a point when compromise gets so bad it’s impossible to turn back? Is it possible to forfeit true faith and risk losing a ‘name place’ in God’s Book of Life? (heavy!)

Clue Collection:

Collect #5 of 7 clues here. The joyful inheritance offered to the faithful in the Sardis Church is also being offered to you. What is it?

p.s. “The kingdom of heaven is like a field…” Matthew 13:44

(Next up…No. 6 The Philadelphia Letter)

Review previous Churches:  Letter No. 1   Letter No. 2  Letters No. 3&4  

© 2011 S. Michaels


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The 7 Churches Mystery – Letters No. 3 & 4

THE PERGAMON & THYATIRA LETTERS

Walls appear to be closing in as we wander further into the labyrinth of the mystery of the 7 churches of Revelation and pore over ancient letters. (Revelation Chapter 2 & 3). These 7 cryptic letters were written to 7 churches, and are infused with rich and unusual imagery. The letters beg the question…Why have 7 churches been singled out to hear from God in a vision given to John of Patmos? After reading the first two letters, we think we have a few answers. We will now read two more letters written to churches in the ancient cities of Pergamon (or Pergamum), and Thyatira. Who knows? Perhaps these letters will deepen our understanding of some of the mysteries of God which we are beginning to realize is part of this journey. Each of these letters was wondrously and strangely revealed to John in a vision. The One bringing the vision was mysterious in appearance… “…looking like Jesus, He called Himself ‘The Son of Man’, and was wearing a long robe, with a gold band encircled around his chest…and His face shone like the power of the sun with unclouded brilliance…” In this profound setting, John trembled in fear, yet he began to record the letters, and was no doubt uplifted by positive words from Jesus as he began. But suddenly the mood has changed. Ominous warnings begin to unfold in Revelation Chapter 2: 12-29 , warnings which were not so evident in the two earlier letters to churches in Ephesus and Smyrna.

To the Pergamon Church, Jesus declares: I AM FULLY AWARE THAT YOU LIVE IN THE CITY WHERE SATAN’S THRONE IS…YET YOU HAVE REMAINED LOYAL TO ME AND REFUSED TO DENY MY NAME…HOWEVER, I HAVE  A FEW THINGS AGAINST YOU…(Wait a minute..if this church is loyal, what’s gone wrong?)

And to the Thyatira Church: I AM AWARE OF ALL YOUR GOOD DEEDS, YOUR KINDNESS TO THE POOR, YOUR LOVE AND FAITH AND PATIENCE…YOUR CONSTANT IMPROVEMENT IN ALL OF THESE THINGS, BUT I HAVE SOMETHING AGAINST YOU…(No! Wait… I was certain this church was on the right track…)

Pergamon…was the site of the martyrdom of the first bishop of the church, Antipas in 92 AD. The city of Thyatira…(today known as Akhisar) was a famous ancient centre for trade. Both sites were ‘home’ to early Christian churches. These churches seemed to endure and keep a strong faith up to a point. But we learn that the culture around them was like a raging storm of idolatry and greed, and the Pergamon and Thyatira churches were not unlike ships at sea, tossed about and rapidly heading for a treacherous coastline. These churches were being lulled into a perilous trap. They were being led astray by a ‘spirit’ of Balaam, (an Old Testament figure who practised divination or witchcraft and promoted sexual immorality)…and by a ‘spirit’ of Jezebel, the ultimate self-serving, ‘Bible bad girl’ who lured Israel into sexual immorality and idolatry. In the letters to the 7 churches, Jesus knows the danger the Pergamon and Thyatira churches are facing. He throws out an urgent spiritual lifeline, a plea —Change your mind and attitude…now!

Personal Deduction & Study

Read through these letters again in Revelation 2: 12-29. Why was it so important for these two churches to change their mind and attitude and to repent? What difference does repentance make in a believer’s life? What might have taken place if these churches refused to repent? Is there a similar challenge facing Christ- followers today?

Clue Collection:

Collect #3 and #4 of 7 clues here. The same inheritance offered to the Pergamon and Thyatira churches can also belong to you.

“Store up treasues in heaven…” Matthew 6:20

(Coming next: No. 5 The Sardis Letter)

Review previous Churches:  Letter No. 1   Letter No. 2  

© 2011 S. Michaels


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The 7 Churches Mystery – Letter No. 2

THE SMYRNA LETTER

Write this letter! The earth-shattering voice blared like a trumpet!  I wonder if there was a sense of urgency for John of Patmos as he heard the voice of God and began to record another letter…the second of 7 letters spoken to him in a vision and which he was commanded to deliver to 7 churches in Turkey, (Asia Minor). Why these 7 churches in particular? We’ll get to that later. These letters were revealed to John while he was in exile for preaching God’s Word and for telling everything he knew about Jesus Christ. It was the Lord’s Day and John was worshiping, when suddenly there it was…the trumpeting voice, commanding, Write this down! Send a letter to each of these churches… The One bringing the message to John said He was ‘The Beginning and the End’. Picture the scene, a lonely windswept isle…John trembling as he now wrote the 2nd of 7 letters. (Revelation 2: 8-11).  Let’s take a short tour of a town called Smyrna and see what Letter #2 of 7 is all about.

The ruins of the ancient city of Smyrna (now known as Izmir) is situated today about a half hour’s drive north of ancient Ephesus. This town had extremely powerful ties to the government – the imperial rule of Rome. As a result of this tight allegiance, Smyrna raised a temple to the ‘god’ of Rome, dea Roma, and another temple was erected in memory of the Emperor Tiberius. Swearing allegiance to any one other than the ‘ruler’ or dea Roma was punishable as treason. Important ‘men’ were gods. So it is not surprising to learn that Christians in Smyrna lived in quiet fear.

No doubt these Smyrnan believers missed out on the best job offers. No doubt they were often shunned by popular society. It can be assumed they survived through remaining a close and caring community. (But, time now for a drum roll…) Letter # 2 opens with powerful words and deep encouragement from Jesus:

I KNOW HOW MUCH YOU SUFFER FOR THE LORD, AND ALL ABOUT YOUR POVERTY. BUT YOU HAVE HEAVENLY RICHES…

Jesus tells the Smyrna Church that he knows exactly how bad things are for them and He assures them that in spite of poverty they ‘own’ heaven’s riches. The Lord’s words indicate that the Smyrna Church is heavily oppressed. God’s people are being slandered, blacklisted and crushed on every side, and are advised by the Lord to take heed of those amongst them who say they are ‘ people of God’ but who actually support satan’s causes. (Letter # 2 is the first of two of the 7 letters to the 7 churches which openly “I.D.’s” the ancient foe of God’s Kingdom – satan, later referred to in Revelation 9 as Abaddon(Hebrew), Apollyon (Greek) or…(in English) The Destroyer).

Jesus closes this letter urging the Smyrna Church not to fear satan or any persecution the evil one throws at them. The Smyrna Church is reminded to remain faithful, even in the face of death! Letter #2 is heavy stuff.  It reaveals a sharp contrast between the situation of the believers at the poor church in Smyrna and the big successful church at Ephesus we read about in Letter #1. But wait until you see the ‘double whammy’ problem of the churches in Pergamos and Thyatira…We’ll be there…next

Personal Deduction & Study

Read through this letter again in Revelation 2: 8-11 . Consider answering the following questions as you read: Why do some Christians seem to suffer more for their faith than others? Does suffering mean faith isn’t strong enough…or does it make faith stronger? What strength might the Smyrna Church have which Jesus regards as valuable?

Clue Collection:

Collect #2 of 7 clues here. The same great promise to the Smyrna Church is also available to you. What is it?

(Coming up next: No. 3 The Pergamon Letter & No. 4 The Thyatira Letter)

Review previous Church:  Letter No. 1    

© 2011 S. Michaels


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The 7 Churches Mystery – Letter No.1

THE EPHESUS LETTER

Does the idea of exploring old mysteries intrigue you? Then you may be fascinated by astounding spiritual clues hidden within 7 ancient letters written to 7 churches in Asia Minor.  This 7 part series is simply an introduction to a small portion of Revelation, the last book, and an entirely prophetic book of the Bible. We’re on a search for clues to determine the essential value of these letters. However, for a more detailed or intensive study of Revelation, you may wish to review other web studies such as those found at apocalipsis.org.

As mentioned in our Introduction, the  7 letters to the 7 churches were the beginning of a vision recorded by a disciple of Jesus, John of Patmos in the last book of the Bible sometimes entitled, ‘The Revelation‘. (Note: When studying prophetic writings of the Bible, it is important to realize prophetic writings reveal mysteries and truths, as outlined in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah 28: 8-9): 8From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms. 9But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the LORD only if his prediction comes true.” Jeremiah 28:5-9

Armed with this insight into ‘true’ Bible prophecy,  let’s take a ‘sneak peek’ visit to Ephesus.  The Ephesus Church was an important and mature church in the time of early followers of Jesus Christ. The church was situated in the seaport city of Ephesus, which was a leading capital of some quarter of a million people. As you may already know, the Apostle Paul wrote a long letter to the Ephesians, which informs us that this church probably played a key role in the lives of early followers of Jesus Christ. However, the Ephesian society of the day was powerfully influenced by false gods and idolatry. Chief amongst  these ‘gods’ was a female fertility god, Artemis. People believed Artmenis brought wealth and revered her by building her a temple. The temple of Artemis at Ephesus was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Within this ‘other gods’ environment, Christianity was considered a dangerous influence with its emphasis on humility and moderate living and worship of one true God. Non-Christians feared losing their wealth if they offended Artemis and allowed Christianity to take hold.

Time to open Mystery Envelope #1 (or should that be unroll the scroll of Letter # 1?) (a drum roll, please…) As we read the Letter to the Ephesus Church: (Revelation 2: 1-7) …we discover that it opens on a positive note:

I KNOW THE MANY GREAT THINGS YOU’RE DOING…

Encouraging words!

This letter is addressed to the angel’ (some texts say ‘leader’) of the church in Ephesus. Jesus commends the Ephesus Church for working hard and for their godly patience in the midst of trials and sufferings. The letter shows us that the Ephesus Church aren’t ‘quitters’. They are disciplined, determined and make godliness a priority. They don’t tolerate sin. They are adept at examining ‘leaders’. This church even uncovered  ‘leaders’ amongst them who were false and had lied about being apostles. The Ephesus Church stayed on its spiritual toes by also silencing the ungodly influence of a group called the Nicolaitans (better known as the Balaamites, who had seduced the Israelites into immorality). However, in the midst of approval, this church receives a solemn warning. In spite of their merits, we hear in the letter that the Ephesus Church has forfeited something of immense value to their faith– their ‘first love’  – a love for God and putting Him first.

Personal Deduction & Study:

Read through this letter again in Revelation 2: 1-7 . Consider answering the following questions as you read: How is it possible that a Church of Great Things’ might end up doing great things, yet lose sight of their ‘first love’? What might Jesus be asking this church to hear or learn from the Spirit of God? How can Christians listen more closely to God and hear from God’s Spirit?

Clue Collection:

Collect # 1 of 7 clues here. The same great promise or inheritance available to the Ephesus Church is also for you! What is it?

(Next Letter – No. 2 The Smyrna Letter)

© 2011 S. Michaels