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

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

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

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

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