Saturday, August 15, 2009

Messages to the Churches of Revelation

While a prisoner on the island of Patmos John was visited by Christ who told him, "What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea." He was told to address each letter to “the angel of the church”as represented by seven stars which were the angels of the seven churches, and the ”seven lampstands” which were the seven churches. (Rev 1:20) Popular opinion says that the angel refers to the person who publicly represents the church as its leader. Some however have put forth the opinion that the angel represents an emissary or messenger sent from each church who visited John while he was in prison as Paul was visited while imprisoned in Rome.
But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. (Phil 4:18)

As for the meaning of the letters, you will find different opinions depending upon which scholar you reference. Probably the most prevalent belief is that of Cyrus Scofields who is considered the father of the modern day dispensational view of the end times. It could be said that his bible commentaries have had more influence in shaping the modern view of the end times than other published writings. In his companion commentary of the Scofield Bible, Cyrus saw four different meaning in the messages to the churches.
(1) Local, to the churches actually addressed; (2) Admonitory, to all churches in all time as tests by which they may discern their true spiritual state in the sight of God; (3) Personal, in the exhortations to him "that hath an ear," and in the promise "to him that overcometh"; (4) Prophetic, as disclosing seven phases of the spiritual history of the church from, say, A.D. 96 to the end.
Each letter followed a similar pattern that begins with a greeting, and then a description of the risen Christ. Next there is praise for each church then criticism, followed by a warning an exportation and finally a promise of what to be expected for those following His advise. By close examination, the reader will see that the description of our risen Lord is different for each of the seven letters. These various descriptions are not cute little extras phrases added to make the letters more colorful, but instead they are descriptions that enforce Christ’s message to follow. (Rev 2:1; Rev 2:8; Rev 2:12; Rev 2:18; Rev 3:1; Rev 3:7& Rev 3:14) It is small but not so insignificant nuances like these that make studying the Book of Revelation a true blessing as John’s introductory statement says in (Rev 1:3). For the next couple of weeks I will attempt to give a brief but concise description of each church and what its message means, starting with Ephesus and on through to the last, Laodicea.
The first church Christ mentions is Ephesus, the loveless church. Ephesus means darling, and with over 300,000 people it was the largest city and the Capital of the Asian Province. Founded by Paul around 50 AD it was also the location of the third ecumenical council in 431 AD. With an important seaport it boasted of being the home of the Greek goddess Diana, known to the Romans as Artemis the moon goddess, and to the Asiatic as the nursing mother of gods, men, animals, and plants. The Temple of Artemis was one of the seven ancient wonders of the world whose goddess was commercialized as a trinket god supplying great wealth to the local silversmiths. Paul’s preaching interfered with the commerce of this idol and aroused violent opposition from the merchants.
About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen; these he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, "Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business.(Act 19:23-25)
At the time when Paul founded this church hardly anyone there knew of the true Gods temple. Now, two thousand years later, no one knows of Artemis. This ancient wonder was burnt and rebuilt and finally destroyed, and the world is better for that destruction. Meanwhile the true temple is majestically nearing completion with new members being added to the Lambs Book of life every day. Christ recognized the Ephesians tireless perseverance in bearing up under trial for His name’s sake, and how they opposed false apostles and the heretical Nicolaitians; (Rev2:2-3)& Rev 2:5) However, he reproved them for having left their first love, (Rev 2:4) and admonished them to remember where they had fallen from, (Rev 2:5). They are warned to repent and to do their first works or else He will come and remove the candlestick out of its place. As a reward to all that overcome and persevere, the fruit from the tree of life is offered. Those who allegorize the churches to represent the different ages match Ephesus with the early church age roughly from 33 AD to 70 AD, marking the fall of Jerusalem.
The second church John writes to is Situated at the head of the Gulf of Izmir where the Hermus River flows into the Agean Sea. Smyrna the persecuted church is the only church that remains to this day. The city had worshiped Rome as a spiritual power since about 195 BC, explaining Smyrna’s historical pride in its Caesar Cult. A fact that was not overlooked by Rome, as the Emperor Tiberius granted them the right to build a temple to him in 26 AD. Resembling a diadem, many beautiful and majestic public buildings formed a circle around the summit of Mt. Pagos that the locals called the “Crown of Porticoes”. Thus we have the reference in (Rev 2:10) to a crown of life for those who are faithful unto death.
Smyrna was famous for science and medicine and was a wealthy city, but the church itself suffered in abject poverty because its professing members would not renounce Christ in order to get work from the local trade unions. Smyrna means myrrh, like myrrh Smyrna was to be crushed to release its fragrance, thus its Saints were to be persecuted, becoming a sweet aroma to the Lord. Recognizing their spiritual commitment to Him, Christ encouraged them to persevere in the face of trials and tribulations that will last for ten days. As a result of persecutions, many Saints from this church would be martyred for their faith. The most famous of these would be Polycarp, a disciple of John who was martyred by fire in 155 AD.
Those who lean toward a literal interpretation often consider the ten days as representing ten waves of persecutions the Christians suffered in the first three centuries until Constantine became Emperor and legalized Christianity. Between five and seven million Christians were martyred in this period. Like all Christians throughout history, Christ tells the Smyrna Christians to hold fast to their faith and stay true to Him and the second death will have no effect on them. To the allegorist, Smyrna represents the church age from the time the Temple was destroyed by Titus until Constantine became Emperor, 70 AD to 313 AD.

No comments:

Post a Comment