Revelation Week 3 -Beginning the Letters to the Seven Churches

Messages to the Seven Churches

  • Seven cities in Asia Minor (the Province of Asia)
    • This became the main stronghold of the church fairly quickly
      • The church in Jerusalem flees the aftermath of the rebellion in 70
      • The ministries of Peter, John, and Paul are in this area
      • The church at Rome isn’t that big yet (doesn’t really matter until Christianity becomes the state religion)
    • The cities form a circle around the area (circles – sign of completion/wholeness, another sign that this is for all of us)
  • All the messages deal with a set of major issues
    1. Outside threats
      • Persecution – we touched on this week 1
        • Some from neighbors, starting to see some from the central government
          • Rise of Emperor worship is going to add to the problems – it isn’t the law but people are suspicious of you
          • These messages are a warning that a storm is coming and if they aren’t ready they won’t make it
      • Issues with the Jewish Community
        • Christianity begins as a Jewish sect and Rome understood it as such for the first 50-100 years of the church’s existence- they worshipped in the synagogue, used the torah as scripture, and had protected status under Roman law as Jews
          • Can’t be punished (by the government) for not participating in the civil religion
        • After the fall of Jerusalem Jewish leaders begin looking for someone to blame and the Christians are the obvious issue – we’ll never get the messiah to come if some people think he’s already been here
          • They don’t follow the law, the don’t expect circumcision, they aren’t really part of us
        • Losing that protected status opens them up to persecution – people love a scapegoat and the Jews are throwing them to the wolves
    2. Internal threats
      • False teachers/prophets and False teachings – mostly dealing with how apart from society they need to be
      • Complacency – if you’re not paying attention you’re not going to survive

Revelation and Rome

  • There are two traditional ways of reading Revelation
    1. Futurist – Revelation deals with the final generation on earth, the events of the book will take place one day
    2. Preterist – the prophecies of Revelation were fulfilled John lived
    3. Historicist (I lied there are three) – combines the two, Revelation is an account, beginning in John’s day, of a sequence of prophecies that will unfold sequentially to the end of the world
    4. Idealist (while I’m on a roll) – Revelation deals with the ongoing battle between good and evil locked in a timeless struggle with no final consummation to history envisioned
      • shows the world as it is and will always be
  • For our purpose – Futurist/Historicist view vs. Preterist view
    • Preterist says that everything in this book can be attributed or connected to Rome
      • We’ll talk about these more in depth as we get to them but this view sees the 4 Horsemen as periods in Roman history, the Beasts of the sea and land as the Roman Navy and Army, the Anti-Christ as the Emperor, and the ultimate victory being the fall of the Empire (fits with Daniel’s vision of Kingdoms, Daniel 2, 7, and 8)
        • There’s some obvious truth in this: 666 = Nero Ceasar written in Hebrew and assigned a numeric value

Resh (ר)

Samekh (ס)

Qoph (ק)

Nun (נ)

Vav (ו)

Resh (ר)

Nun (נ)

Sum

200

60

100

50

6

200

50

666

From <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_of_the_Beast#Nero>

  • BUT – there’s an obvious problem there: Rome fell and Jesus didn’t come back. Does that mean that there was a mistake or none of the “Roman” examples matter for us? Of course not!
    • Babylon – pretty clear reference to Rome, the place all business goes through, woman who seduces and traps people with her whiles and leaves them empty and used up.
    • Was Rome the last Babylon? No, a new one always takes the old one’s place
      • What’s the current Babylon? Through whom does the world’s economy run? Where does the most powerful military reside? Who can decide that governments of certain countries need to change and everyone else gets on board?
        • We’re living in Babylon! And do some people not still get seduced by it? And do we not sometimes have to decide where our loyalties lie? And if we get too close do we not bear its mark – do we not have to live with/defend the policies of the people we support?
          • Tony Campolo – “I believe America is the best Babylon in the world, but its still Babylon. And Babylon will always pull at our loyalties”
  • So should we dismiss all the obvious references? No, because they add to the book
    • In this case (the reason for this whole rant) – when games were held they would open with an address from the Emperor (either in person or via letter) recognizing the cities present, saying what positives and negatives he knew about them, and giving them recommendations for moving forward
      • The true ruler is using Rome’s manner of communicating to remind them who is really in charge

Revelation 2

Ephesus (2:1-7)

  • “to the angel” – we touched on this idea last week, each worldly church has a heavenly counterpart
    • Also could be translated “spirit” – churches have a spirit, when you walk in you can tell a lot about them
  • Ephesus is the largest, richest, most dominant city in the area
    • Port, built on the mouth of the Cayster river where it emptied into the sea
      • That produced silt which constantly threatened to clog up the port and eventually did (the city sits 6 miles inland today).
        • Their wealth came at great effort – “I know your works, your labor, and endurance”
          • Like their city the church had worked and labored and endured
        • They had faced both internal pressures (false teachers) and external threats (rich Christians had it harder in these days because there were cultural things you had to participate in to maintain culture and status)
          • BUT! – they’re so focused on orthodoxy and remaining faithful has caused them to forget the call to love. They’re the older brother in the Parable of the prodigal son, they’re so desperate to be right that they’ve lost perspective
            • Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 – anything done without love is inadequate
            • Christ calls them to repent or risk losing their lampstand (no longer existing)
              • A church that doesn’t love isn’t going to last
  • Nicolaitans – not quite sure who that is. The belief is that this was a sect that argued that eating food sacrificed to idols was ok
    • Big problem for the early church – most meat sold in the market or served at public events came from animals offered at the different temples, is eating that meat tacitly participating in pagan worship?
      • Paul argued that it wasn’t but that if it caused questions from other people then don’t do it
      • Here the argument is strictly against it (we’ll see more in a second). In the face of persecution any accommodation is a slippery slope. Today its eating meat, tomorrow its going to the temple for worship but not “participating,” the next day its publicly denouncing your faith but not “really” meaning it
  • Verse 7 – big theme in Revelation, the end result of all of this is the world as it was intended to be in the beginning

  • Smyrna (2:8-11)
    • Birthplace of the Crepe Myrtle tree
    • “Died and came back to life” – obviously true of Jesus, also true of Smyrna. Destroyed in 500ish and by the Persians and rebuilt under Alexander
    • Christians here are poor but that’s a sign of life – if they were rich they would be tempted to cozy up to the powers that be, their poverty keeps them from temptation
    • Facing threat from Jews – open to persecution
      • Who is this actually coming from? Satan, who wants these folks to abandon their faith
      • “Ten days” – brief period of persecution is coming, even though it won’t be long some of them may die from it
        • Don’t fear though, those faithful unto death will be given the crown of life and won’t be hurt by the second death.
          • Theme throughout these letters and the book as a whole, if you’re faithful the only weapons that can be used against you are in this life

  • Pergamum (2:12-17)
    • Capital of the Attalid kingdom in Western Asia Minor
      • Attalus – one of the generals who divided up Alexander’s empire following his death
      • Huge altar to Zeus
      • Major military base in Roman province of Asia
    • “Where satan’s throne is” – maybe the altar to Zeus, maybe that it is the seat of Roman power
    • Situation of the church isn’t great – they have been and still are facing persecution, but so far they’ve held on
      • They’re doing well against the external forces, but they’re struggling with the internal
        • Balaamites – Balaam enticed Israel to intermingle with foreign women (Numbers 31)
        • Members of this church are intermingling with pagan practices at the risk of their faith
    • Verse 17 – white stones were the entrance tickets to banquets – the folks in this church are having to sacrifice their values to get in to the right events so that they can maintain their place in society
      • those who are faithful will be fed spiritual food, and welcomed into the Messiah’s banquet

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