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Truth in Palmyra

By Wally Fry

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revelation

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 5

Revelation 2:1-7

“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:” Revelation 2:2

But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate” Revelation 2:6

Yay, we finally made it to our 2d verse!

Jesus starts here with some commendations, some kudos, for this church. He had something good to say to six of the seven churches; only the church at Laodicea received no positive words from our Lord.

I know thy worksJesus knows. I have said this before: I am absolutely not any sort of Greek scholar. However, even cursory use of a good concordance and word study, or inter linear Bible, can really shed light on deeper meaning in Scripture. In this case, “I know,” means more than it might appear. This is not some gradual acquisition of knowledge Jesus is coming to. The tense seems to be more like, “I have known your works.” He knows them perfectly from the beginning to the end. It seems to me this harkens back to Jesus holding the seven stars in His hand and walking among the candlesticks. His literal presence and omniscience gives Him perfect knowledge of His churches. Because of that He can evaluate them perfectly.

After Jesus tells the church that He knows their works, He proceeds to evaluate them. I think we’ll leave off there and pick up next time.

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 4

Revelation 2:1-7

“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks” Revelation 2:1

Yes, yes…we are STILL there! I’m really not in any rush, and all I am doing here is sharing things that come to mind as I read, write, and even talk about these posts.

A couple of comments were made that are worth looking at. If you want to see them in context, head back to Part 3. Click on the names, and you will go to their blogs.

I believe that the correct translation of “candlesticks” would be a Menorah.

I agree – those Jewish Christians would have immediately recognized “seven lampstands” as a reference to the Tabernacle/Temple, which was to them (as Jews) the place where Gods glory dwells among us. The full description is somewhere in Exodus, but i forget where and im too lazy to look it up. But yes, this is definitely a direct reference to what we today (in English) term as “menorah”, and as Wally pointed out, there’s a lot to unpack in that one evocative little phrase.

You know something? This reference to something that readers would instantly get matters a bit. It’s just true that somethings in Scripture are shrouded in mystery and even uncertainty. We don’t get or agree on all things. By the way, that’s not a bad thing at all; if we just got it all, we would read once and move on to something else. I believe God keeps us guessing sometimes so that we will seek him more thoroughly by reading His Word. But, back to the the issue at hand!

On the other hand, sometimes Jesus says: “Hey, listen up!” Sometimes He wants us to just get it. Even though not all got His parables, they were always grounded in a reference readers would get, and that was relevant to their lives. We will see that over and over as we go through the seven churches of Asia; references are made to illustrate points readers would get because the references were real to their lives.

This candlestick reference would have been pretty clear to any Jewish readers of these letters; again we see that every word in the Old Testament points to Jesus who appeared in the flesh in the New Testament. That’s just pretty neat, in my book.

Here is a little something Jesus also said repeatedly as He wrote these letters: “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” He’s trying to make some things clear; are we listening?

 

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 3

Revelation 2:1-7

“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks” Revelation 2:1

Well, here we are, still in the first verse! We have briefly talked about some of the symbology of Jesus walking among the candlesticks, particularly as it applies to the idea of seven representing the completeness of God and how this probably indicates the applicability of these letters to all churches at all times; we also covered that it seems the idea of Him walking among, and being with His churches. Why candlesticks though? He could have walked among something else, right?

What do candlesticks provide? Well, light of course. I have made reference to Scripture, from start to finish, as being a tapestry of redemption through Jesus Christ from start to finish. I didn’t make that up, that what any Bible scholar would tell you, too. Yet, we see common themes appearing time and time again in Scripture; light is one of those things. Light is used over an over as a symbol of God, Jesus Christ, and even His followers as reflections of that light.

There’s TONS of references to this, so here are just a few to illustrate the point a bit.

Before God spoke, there wasn’t any light! “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. Genesis 1:3.

God as light led the Israelites in the desert.And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.” Exodus 13:21,22.

Later, in the Tabernacle, we actually see a reference to 7 lamps! “And thou shalt make the seven lamps thereof: and they shall light the lamps thereof, that they may give light over against it.” Exodus 25:37.

He is the light that lights the world. “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:” John 1:9-12.

We are to walk in the light.“If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:” 1 John 1:6.

We are to BE the light of the world, as His reflections. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.  Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16.

So, is it significant that Jesus walked among candlesticks? Pretty sure it is!

 

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 2

Revelation 2:1-7

“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;” Revelation 2:1

Friends, grab a cup of coffee, pull up a chair and sit a spell; we are going to be in the Seven Letters to Seven churches for a bit. I keep finding as I study for this that there is far more detail and so many rabbit trails to chase, that we may never get done. So, we are going to take things really slow. We won’t be too long on any particular section, as I know most people’s blogging attention span short, and nobody really tends to read 2000 words. I know I tend not to unless I am just totally captured; since I don’t suspect I will totally capture anybody, short and hopefully sweet is the order of the day. So, we’ll just poke around verse by verse, see where things go and hopefully learn a thing or two together.

Today let’s talk some more about the authority behind these letters; I know we have covered that some, but repetition is not always bad.

These letters were written by Jesus Himself. That’s just pretty awesome. Of course, I believe that every word and every jot and tittle of Scripture was inspired by God; He delivered them to each and every writer throughout the ages. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17. I’m good with that, just as written, that being a reference to the completed Canon of Scripture. I’m really not that interested in debating those who would limit that to parts of Scripture; go find somebody who wants to and have at it, I suppose.

God inspired many to write different parts of Scripture. The Epistles of the New Testament, in particular, are God’s direct communication by way of some writer, to a particular group of people.

These letters are different, and they are different by reason of the author Himself. Each of these letters begins with something like: “Unto_____________, write.” These are the words of our Lord Himself to His churches.

I know there are those who tend to minimize those parts of Scripture that are not the direct words of Jesus Himself; we love those red letters, as we should. Friends, they may not be in red, but these are also the direct words of the Lord Jesus to us.

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 1

First, let me caveat all that follows if I may. I am NOT a historian, and we won’t be covering anything not readily available from hundreds of sources. All I am is a guy doing some studying, writing some notes and thoughts, and sharing those with readers. Before we dive into the letters to each church, we are just going to review some of the cultural-historical backgrounds for each. As He did in His parables, Jesus often made reference to things based on the real situation in each location that would have instantly made sense to readers, and also help really illustrate the points He was trying to make with each.

Ephesus the city figured fairly prominently in both the Roman empire at the time, as well as in the early spread of the Christian churches in Asia Minor. As we covered earlier Ephesus received more note in Scripture than any of the other churches He dispatched letters to.

From BiblePlaces.com

Ephesus

Ephesus

In the ancient world, Ephesus was a center of travel and commerce.  Situated on the Aegean Sea at the mouth of the Cayster River, the city was one of the greatest seaports of the ancient world.

Three major roads led from the seaport: one road went east towards Babylon via Laodicea, another to the north via Smyrna and a third south to the Meander Valley.

Temple of Artemis

Considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, Ephesus’ Temple of Artemis was dedicated to the goddess of the hunt.  Only the foundation and one column remain of this temple which once measured 425 feet long, 220 feet wide, and 60 feet high.

Paul’s successful ministry in this city was considered a threat to this very temple (Acts 19:27).

Library of Celsus

Originally built in AD 115-25, this restored facade is a highlight of the ruins today.  This style is believed to be the standard architectural form for Roman libraries.  The interior measures 70 by 80 feet and held approximately 15,000 scrolls.

This library was dedicated to Celsus the proconsul of Asia and his sarcophagus was located under the apse.

Terrace Houses

From the time of Augustus, these dwellings of wealthy Ephesians, were decorated with beautiful frescoes and mosaics. The houses had luxurious bedrooms, bathrooms, triclinium, and kitchens.

Built against the mountain south of Ephesus, the roof of one house forms the terrace for the house above it.  These houses were inhabited until the 7th century AD.

Commercial Agora

This market area is known as the “Square Agora” because of its dimensions 360 feet square.  It arose in the Hellenistic period and was surrounded on all sides by arched shops about 40 feet deep. It is located next to the harbor and was the city’s main commercial center.  It is quite possible that Paul worked here with Priscilla and Aquila in their tent-making business.

Theater

Originally holding 25,000 people, this theater was built in the Hellenistic period and was renovated by several Roman emperors.  Designed for theatrical performances, later alterations allowed gladiatorial contests to be held here.

When Paul was accused of hurting the Artemis and her temple, the mob gathered together in this theater (Acts 19:23-41).

So, Ephesus was a big deal in Asia Minor during the time of early Christianity. As we have discussed, sending the letters to the churches made great logistical sense, as it was a major seaport, as well as an intersection for major trade routes through the Roman Province of Asia. This also is likely why the city and church were featured in Scripture so much, as apparently, Ephesus was the springboard for much of the evangelism of Asia Minor.

From the McArthur Study Bible

It is likely that the gospel was first brought to Ephesus by Priscilla and Aquila, an exceptionally gifted couple (see Acts 18:26) who were left there by Paul on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1819). Located at the mouth of the Cayster River, on the east side of the Aegean Sea, the city of Ephesus was perhaps best known for its magnificent temple of Artemis, or Diana, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It was also an important political, educational, and commercial center, ranking with Alexandria in Egypt, and Antioch of Pisidia, in southern Asia Minor.

The City of Ephesus

The fledgling church begun by Priscilla and Aquila was later firmly established by Paul on his third missionary journey (Acts 19) and was pastored by him for some 3 years. After Paul left, Timothy pastored the congregation for perhaps a year and a half, primarily to counter the false teaching of a few influential men (such as Hymenaeus and Alexander), who were probably elders in the congregation there (1 Tim. 1:320). Because of those men, the church at Ephesus was plagued by “fables and endless genealogies” (1 Tim. 1:4) and by such ascetic and unscriptural ideas as the forbidding of marriage and abstaining from certain foods (1 Tim. 4:3). Although those false teachers did not rightly understand Scripture, they propounded their ungodly interpretations with confidence (1 Tim. 1:7), which produced in the church harmful “disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith” (1 Tim. 1:4). Thirty years or so later, Christ gave to the Apostle John a letter for this church indicating its people had left their first love for Him (Rev. 2:1–7).

There, wasn’t that lazy of me? Good info, though, and useful later I hope!

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Introduction Part 4

Okay, I promise; this is really the last part of the introduction. I was done, but that old rabbit ran out and I had to chase it. It was no big deal; I just realized I didn’t really know how the seven churches mentioned in Revelation had figured in the rest of Scripture. So, I looked and today I will share what I learned.

Ephesus.

The church at Ephesus figures fairly prominently in the writings of the New Testament. The first mention we see of Ephesus was in Acts Chapter 18, where Paul seemingly planted this church on his second missionary journey.

In Acts 19, we see Paul return to  Ephesus where he stayed for another three years. Likely during this time, he sent missionaries out to surrounding areas, perhaps even planting some of the other nearby churches mentioned in the seven letters.

Paul never returned to Ephesus, but at the end of his third journey, while on the island of Miletus, he did summon the elders of the Ephesian Church to give them his final goodbye and exhortation. This is in Acts 20.

We see mentions of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus in 1 Corinthians 15:32 and 16:8.

Paul wrote two of his pastoral Epistles to Timothy while that young man was the pastor at Ephesus in 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy.

Finally, the Ephesians got their own Epistle from Paul.

Smyrna. Not mentioned outside of Revelation.

Pergamum. Not mentioned outside of Revelation.

Thyatira. The church is not mentioned, but the town is as the place where Lydia in Acts Chapter 16 was from

Sardis. Not mentioned outside of Revelation.

Philadelphia. Not mentioned outside of Revelation.

Laodicea. Mentioned several times in Colossians, as Paul asked that his epistle to Colossae be read in the Laodicean church as well.

Seven churches.pngIsn’t that interesting. It sure seems that churches who got a personal letter from Jesus would have had a bigger role in scripture, yet overall they had little mention at all. Why these churches then? There were bigger cities and more churches than just these seven.

It seems it is just a matter of simple geography and information dissemination. If we assume that Jesus wanted all of the Asian churches to see and understand His words, then these seven are fairly perfect. Ephesus is the point at which most commerce and such would enter Asia minor, especially something coming from Patmos, and the others lined up on the main trade routes, and through the seven postal districts of Asia Minor at the time. If the spreading of information is the point, then this was perfect.

I’m sort of disappointed, as I was hoping for some deeply symbolic, Revelation type of thing here. Although this does tie in rather nicely with the idea of the number of churches being seven symbolizing God’s completeness, and the idea that the messages were for all churches, of all times!

Okay, really…I promise: Next time we will start the church at Ephesus.

 

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Introduction Part 3

The Authority of Jesus in the churches

Revelation Chapter 1

We are almost done with the introduction to this series and ready to move on to the churches. Actually, I was done but got lost on a small rabbit trail. So, next time readers can go down that trail with me!

Jesus is the head of His church, and his churches. That seems self-evident from scripture, yet somehow along the way that seems to have fallen by the wayside some. I write from the perspective of the work I am part of. One of the things we believe is that Jesus formed His church personally during His earthly ministry. We also believe that each church is an independent body and that no higher ecclesiastical authority can exercise authority over them. I know other works are organized differently in terms of ecclesiastical authority, and that’s fine. Nonetheless, Jesus has full authority over His churches. Regardless of how we have organized within our various tribes of Christianity, ultimately His churches report to Him and Him alone.

In the opening chapter of Revelation, we see that authority claimed quite explicitly by Jesus.

First Jesus claims divine authority as he prepares John to write down the letters He will dictate to the Apostle. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8. Jesus repeats this declaration again in verse 11. This is the same way God answered Moses when asked who He was. “I am.” Jesus establishes His credentials as the preexistent and eternal God in this section.

The imagery here practically shouts the power and glory of God. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. ” Revelation 1:14-16.  The hair white as snow seems to represent the holiness of God. We see eyes like a flame of fire that can see all that His churches are doing, even what they may think is hidden. Quite a few scholars see the brass feet represent the judgment of God, and possible judgment on sin in His churches. Not all agree on every particular of the meaning of all the imagery, but all agree of what it represents, and that is the power, holiness, and authority of God. Jesus being endowed with all of these things clearly established Jesus’ authority as well.

As we alluded to before, the fact that Jesus sent seven letters is likely no accident. Since seven represents the completeness of God, this seems to be an allusion to Jesus’ authority over all churches at all times.

Revelation 1:20 “The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.”

That the seven candlesticks are the churches is easy and clear; the meaning of the stars might be ambiguous, but I don’t think so. Angels can be translated as messengers. Since we don’t see any evidence elsewhere that actual angels have ever had authority in the churches, it seems likely this is a referral to the pastors, elders or other leaders of these congregations. Jesus is walking among the candlesticks; today He is still among and within His churches. Jesus literally holds the angels in His hand; He is in control of His churches and its leaders.

Friends, our congregations are not alone. Jesus even today is walking among them and has full control of what is happening in them. There is nothing going on, good or bad, that He is not in full awareness of.

Jesus had words to say to His churches then. Some were good words, and some were not good words. In this opening chapter, He clearly established His full presence with, knowledge of, and authority over the churches. In the following two chapters we will see what he had to say to the seven churches of Asia, and by default what He has to say to us today.

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Introduction Part 2

Before we move onward to the next post in the introduction to this series, we are actually going to take a step back. What was really not supposed to be a big deal, really, has generated a lot of interest and discussion. Go check the comments on the first one and you can get caught up. There were some great comments, and I think some clarifying remarks are in order.

The first question is: Who were the letters to? I don’t really know of anyone who argues that the letters were anything but seven literal letters to seven literal churches. It seems clear Jesus dispatched them to John the Apostle to address specific issues in specific congregations. Each of them was a real church at the time of the writing, and the letters spoke of things very specific to each of them. So far so good. The problem is…what about now? God’s word is for today, even when it may have been delivered to a certain person or group then. I was relevant then, is relevant now, and will be relevant until Jesus comes back and makes everything new. The remaining question is: What do these letters mean to us now?

There are two schools of thoughts, more or less, about this matter. They have names which I won’t use because it seems nobody even fully agrees on what to refer to the different thoughts as.

The first school of thought is that the seven churches were prophetic and to be representative of different stages of the church through the ages historically. Such and such church is the church of the Apostles, such and such church is the church after the Apostles, such and such is the church under Constantine, such and such is the Roman Catholic church in it’s prime, such and such church is the Reformation…and so on. Complicated, right?

In my post and comments, I said this thought was not without merit. I didn’t say it had much merit; that’s because I really don’t think it has that much. First, squeezing time periods in history to specific churches who got letters is hard; they just don’t fit very cleanly. Next, even proponents of this system don’t come close to agreeing on what fits where; seems folks sometimes base the fits on their theology. See the comments on the previous post for a good example. Finally, what are we to do if God allows time to continue for another couple of thousand years? It’s just too complicated. As I said, the view has some merit, but I don’t think it really nails it properly.

The other view is basically that once we move beyond the specific churches addressed, that the application is for all churches, at all times, potentially at one time or another. This is my view. Why? Well, it fits. We can look through history and see that the issues identified have been issues in different churches at different times. Always, there have been churches exactly like these. Today, there are churches exactly like these. Oh…and from the previous comments: Seven churches? Seven always represents completeness as found in God. Jesus…seven letters…his church(churches.) That math works.

So, while the discussion is interesting, like it or not this is the approach that I’ll be using as we move onward.

Next up: the authority of the letters.

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Introduction Part 1

Today, we are starting a new series, “Seven Letters to Seven Churches.” In case readers haven’t figured it out yet, our new series will be about the 7 Letters Jesus Christ dispatched to the seven churches of Asia in the Book of Revelation.

FYI, for no other reason that I want to, this new series will run Monday and Friday, and the “Follow Me,” articles are going to Tuesday and Thursday.

Even though this is from the Book of Revelation, this will not be any type of study of Eschatology. I’m actually not the biggest student of that; maybe later in my Christian “career,” I will be, but I am not now. Don’t get me wrong; it’s very important that we study and try to understand every single word in the Bible. So, while I do like to study eschatology, I am far from ready to write an actual “study” about it.

Having said that, we are going to keep this simple. There is a Historicist view of the seven letters that suggest they were designed to represent 7 different periods of church history from the time John was inspired to write this book until the present. We aren’t actually going to look at them from that angle at all. I am not really a fan of that interpretation of these letters.

The letters seem very straight forward for the most part, and the vivid symbolism we see in much of Revelation is absent. We see here, seven letters dictated to the Apostle John by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself to be delivered to what were, at the time, seven real congregations in Asia Minor(present-day Turkey.) So, immediately we can see that there was an immediate application to reach churches in real time. Jesus was writing about very specific concerns He had with these churches.

Since every word in the Bible is ultimately intended to today’s audience(whenever today happens to be,) we are going to approach this from the standpoint of how we can apply the lessons in these letters to churches today. Because many, at different times, may have had these issues, or may in the future.

So, we will be keeping things simple for the next bit. I’m all about the application of God’s Word, and there is plenty of that in these letters to keep us busy for a bit.

If you want to read ahead, here is our full text for this study.

Introduction: Revelation Chapter 1(list from gotquestions.org)

Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) – the church that had forsaken its first love

Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) – the church that would suffer persecution 

Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17) – the church that needed to repent 

Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) – the church that had a false prophetess 

Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) – the church that had fallen asleep 

Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13) – the church that had endured patiently

Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) – the church with the lukewarm faith 

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