FOCUS ON REVELATION - LESSON 9

Someone Cares About You
Revelation 2-3

Joe and his two grade-school sons, Brady and Cooper, were skiing some of Colorado's finest slopes. The snow was deep and powdery. The days were bright and crisp; the nights were full of stars. One morning the two boys decided to make new ski trails through a forest that paralleled the slope. Joe told the boys he would meet them at the bottom of the hill. Joe and Brady and one of their friends popped out of the end of the forest. But Cooper was nowhere to be found.

Joe patiently waited for thirty minutes, hoping to spot his son's bright yellow ski pants. But Cooper didn't emerge from the trees. Joe called the ski patrol for help. This group skied down through the forest searching. Still no sign of Cooper. Lunch time came and went. Eleven-year-old Cooper never missed a meal, no matter what was on the menu. But by 2:00 p.m. he hadn't appeared, and tears were beginning to fill Joe's eyes. He feared something had gone terribly wrong. By 4:30 p.m. the ski lifts had shut down, and all the other skiers were going home. Joe was frantic. He looked up at the almost emptied slopes, hoping against hope. As the last few stragglers made their way down, there at the tail end was a tiny, lone skier in bright yellow pants. Joe's tears became uncontrollable sobs. But he quickly skied across the base of the slope to meet Cooper. The two threw their arms around each other and hugged for five minutes, unable to speak.

A ski patrol man gliding by called out to Joe, "I bet you're gonna be mad at him!" He obviously was not a dad who'd been separated from his boy. Joe couldn't imagine being angry. He had lost a son, and now he was found!

The Bible tells us that you and I are sons and daughters of God. He loves us. Oh sure, we don't always please Him. In fact many of us live lives that reveal we don't even think about Him. But God never gives up on us. Even some of us who claim to belong to God, and to His Christian church, sometimes live as if we are lost to His plans for us. That's why He has given us messages in the Bible to help us. God is still reaching out. He does that because He loves us!

Scripture says the Christian church is like a body, and Jesus is its head. That means that believers, members of Christ's church, are like His hands and feet in the world; we are to go and share with others that God loves them and died for their sins. One would expect, then, that Jesus would be very concerned about the welfare of His body, the church. And guess what? He is. The second and third chapters of Revelation contain letters Jesus sent through John to seven churches in the province of Asia in the area that is now modern Turkey. The churches are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. These cities were so located on the interconnecting Roman highways that it was possible to visit each one of them in the order they are listed.

The characteristics and lifestyles of the members of these churches represent the journey you take as you grow as a Christian in your relationship with Jesus. There are times of struggle and times of joyful experiences. But no matter where you are in the journey, God loves you and cares about you. As you study the seven churches, relate your personal experience to that of the members of the seven churches.

In addition many biblical scholars believe that the seven churches are symbolic of the whole Christian church throughout history. The experience of each church taken in order reflects the experience of the Christian church during seven consecutive eras. This means that each message has three applications. The first applies to the actual church at the time of the writing of the letter. The second application is to an era of actual church history. The third is how the experience and message apply to your life and mine today!

Let's study each church and make these three applications as we seek to understand God's message.

The Church at Ephesus
(The Apostolic Church, A.D. 31-100)

The name Ephesus means "desirable." It was indeed a very desirable city, located on a beautiful harbor in the Aegean Sea. It was known for its many commercial and cultural interests. One of the Seven Wonders of the World was located here—the temple dedicated to Diana, the pagan goddess of fertility. Aquilla and Priscilla helped to start this church, assisted by Apollos, an evangelist, and the apostle Paul (Acts 18:18-26).

Read Revelation 2:1-7.

1. For what does Jesus praise the church at Ephesus? (Revelation 2:2, 3.)
    For standing firm under persecution and being willing to become martyrs for Him.
    For their works, labor, and patience; because they cannot bear evil; and because they
          persevere without becoming weary..
    For preaching the gospel to pagans and winning many souls for the kingdom of heaven.

2. What problem does Jesus point out in the Ephesian church? (Revelation 2:4.)
    The Ephesian Christians have allowed false doctrines to creep into the church.
    The Ephesian Christians have failed to take care of widows and orphans as they should.
    The Ephesian Christians have left their first love.

3. What solution does Jesus offer for their problem? (Revelation 2:5.)
  
Pay close attention to their pastor and do whatever he says.
  
Study the Scriptures more diligently and pray for the Holy Spirit to help them understand.
  
Remember from where they have fallen, repent, and do the works they did at the beginning.

4. What does Jesus promise this church if the members follow His advice? (Revelation 2:7.)
    They will eat from the tree of life.
    They will be taken to heaven without dying.
    They will become the most respected Christians of all the seven churches.

The members of this church were zealous for God, patient with others, and were loyal and protective of the truth of Scripture. However, in time they lost their first-love relationship with Jesus. They lived their Christian lives as a "to do" list rather than a "I love you and want to do this" experience. God calls the Ephesians back to loving Him again.

The Nicolaitans, mentioned in these verses, claimed to be Christians but believed obedience to God's law was unnecessary. Jesus used strong language about the Nicolaitans, saying He hated their "works" or lifestyle. Irenaeus, a second-century minister, said they called themselves Christians, but they considered it "a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols."

Jesus used strong language in other books of the Bible on this same topic. Jesus said, "He who says 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:4). Jesus also said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). You see, it is important to God that Christians are not hypocrites. His Word should be important to them because they love Him and have chosen to have a relationship with Him. It is like a husband and wife. They do things for each other because they want to, not because they have to.

As you think about your own relationship with Jesus how do you feel at this moment?

The Church at Smyrna
(The Persecuted Church, A.D. 100-313)

The city of Smyrna was about forty miles north of Ephesus on a beautiful inlet of the Aegean Sea. Smyrna means "sweet smelling," and still exists today under the name of Izmir, the third largest city in Turkey. The citizens of Smyrna built a modern three-level shopping mall. This church also passed through bitter persecution, but stood faithful to God. The persecution finally ended when the Roman emperor Constantine became a Christian.

Read Revelation 2:8-11.

5. For what does Jesus praise the church members at Smyrna? (Revelation 2:9.)
   For their keen understanding of the prophecies.
   For their willingness to care for the needs of the apostles.
  
For their good works and for patiently enduring tribulation and poverty.

6. What problems would the church at Smyrna face? (Revelation 2:10.)
    Some of the members at Smyrna would be thrown into prison and suffer tribulation.
    False teachers would deceive some of the members at Smyrna and cause them to lose
          their way spiritually.
    The pagans would not listen to them when they preached the gospel.


Seventy years after this prophecy Smyrna became the death site of numerous martyrs. It was a terrible time in the Roman Empire when Christians were thrown to lions and burned at the stake. One of the last to die heroically was Polycarp, the leader of the church at Smyrna. As he faced a bloodthirsty crowd in the city stadium, the Roman governor demanded that he swear by Caesar and curse Christ. Polycarp replied calmly, "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and he did me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King, who saved me?"

7. What does Jesus promise the church at Smyrna if the members remain faithful?
    (Revelation 2:10.)
    A crown of life.
    Many people will join their church.
    Freedom from persecution.

  • Receiving the crown of life means that one lives forever with God.
  • The Bible calls the final destruction of the world with fire
    the second death. A later lesson will discuss this in depth.

These promises are to those who are "faithful" and "overcome." They are for those who through faith in Jesus would rather die than reject Jesus; would rather die than be dishonest or dishonor their parents or commit adultery or reject the Sabbath.

To think about: If you were put on trial for your faith, what would happen?

The Church at Pergamos
(The Exalted Church, A.D. 313-538)

Pergamos (or Pergamum) means "citadel"; it was located on a mountain spur. This splendid city was known for its many pagan temples and its great library of 200,000 scrolls. Pergamos created the first cult worship of a living emperor. That's why it is referred to as the place "where Satan has his throne." The Christian church in Pergamos was firmly established, but believers there were bombarded with temptations from the sensual, pagan worship that surrounded them.

Read Revelation 2:12-17.

8. For what does Jesus praise the church members at Pergamos? (Revelation 2:13.)
    For holding fast to His name and not denying their faith in Him.
    For the way they have memorized Bible texts.
    For treating with kindness even those who mistreat them.

9. Why does Jesus rebuke the members at Pergamos? (Revelation 2:14.)
    Because they let sinners continue to eat the Lord's Supper.
    Because some of them hold the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans.
    Because they don't fast often enough.

10. What counsel does Jesus give to the church members at Pergamos? (Revelation 2:16.)
    Repent.
    Don't let members who hold false doctrines remain in the church.
    Fast more often.

11. What reward does Jesus promise to those at Pergamos who overcome? (Revelation 2:17.)
    He will give them a better understanding of the Bible.
    He will give them the power to work miracles in His name.
    He will give them hidden manna to eat and a white stone on which is written their new name
.

The courageous martyrdom of a believer named Antipas contrasts with "the teaching of Balaam." Balaam was a false prophet who led Israel into immorality and idolatry (Numbers 22-25). The Nicolaitans posed a similar threat. The "hidden manna" promised to overcomers refers to the bread placed in the sacred ark (box) of the Most Holy Place inside Israel's temple. It represents Jesus as the Bread of Life. The "white stone" was an emblem of honor.

After Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, the church rose to a position of unchallenged popularity and power. Pergamos itself hosted a series of church councils. The historian Theodoret tells us that some of the participating bishops arrived without eyes or arms from the days of persecution. But now the church faced a different threat: pagan practices from the surrounding culture were beginning to seep into the church.

Have you ever felt that you were struggling to be a faithful Christian in an evil environment? If so, what did you do?

The Church at Thyatira
(The Church in the Wilderness, A.D. 538-1500s)

The city of Thyatira lay between two valleys on a principal trading route. It was distinguished by the trades and crafts that flourished there, especially the dyeing of cloth. Its Madder Root, which produced what was called a purple dye, was used in royal attire around the world. It was here that Lydia, one of Paul's early converts, bought her dyes (Acts 16:11-15).

Read Revelation 2:18-29.

12. For what does Jesus praise the church members at
      Thyatira? (Revelation 2:18, 19.)
    For their ministry to the poor and homeless.
    For their humility.
    For their works, love, service, faith, and patience.

The church organized orphanages, hospitals, and mission outreach. It was a very caring congregation, dedicated to meeting people's needs.

13. For what did Jesus rebuke the church members at Thyatira? (Revelation 2:20.)
   
For sexual immorality and eating food offered to idols.
   
For overlooking the needs of the poorer members of the church.
   
For not paying attention to the teachings of the apostles.

Jezebel was a princess and priestess of Baal, a pagan nature god. She promoted sun worship and helped lead Israel away from its special relationship with God.

14. What would be the punishment for those who continued in these sins? (Revelation 2:22, 23.)
    Sickness and pain.
    Tribulation and death.
    Guilt and anxiety.

Why do you think God is so concerned when His truth is mixed with false teachings?

15. What is Jesus' promise to those in Thyatira who are faithful? (Revelation 2:26-28.)
    They will receive all the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
    They will escape persecution.
    They will have power over the nations and receive the morning star from God.

How could a church today be deceived by a false teaching or leader? What should you do so you won't be deceived?

The Church at Sardis
(The Church of the Reformation, A.D.1500s-1790s)

Sardis means "that which remains." This center of textile manufacture and jewelry making was located on a plateau 1000 feet above the valley below and seemed impregnable. But Cyrus the Great found a way inside. One dark night in 547 B.C. he sent an agile soldier to scale the cliffs below Sardis. While the city slept peacefully, the man opened the huge gates from the inside. Almost 300 years later, Antiochus conquered the city in the same way again while everyone was sleeping.

Read Revelation 3:1-6.

Jesus described believers in Sardis as being alive but dead—sleeping "on the job" of being Christians! What do you think it means to be asleep as a believer?

Have you ever fallen asleep when you should have been awake? How did you feel about it?

16. What advice does Jesus give to the church members at Sardis? (Revelation 3:2, 3.)
    Quit being gluttons and drunkards.
    Make special efforts to instruct their children in the gospel.
    Be watchful, hold fast, and repent.

Sleeping believers are complacent believers. Sardis represents the time period of the Reformation. Unfortunately the Reformation's descendants split into several quarreling factions. Believers came to experience religion only as a formal assent to the right creed. They fell asleep inside the safety of their "correct doctrine."

17. What does Jesus tell the members at Sardis to remember? (Revelation 3:3.)
    The way they used to live before they became Christians.
    The lessons of the Old Testament.
    What they have received and heard.

In the Bible, white symbolizes spiritual purity. Christ's perfect life is sometimes represented as a spotless, white garment. God promises to give that garment to everyone who accepts Christ as Savior. That's how we're "dressed in white." He exchanges our imperfect life for His perfect life.

18. What does Jesus promise to those in Sardis who overcome? (Revelation 3:5.)
    They will be clothed in white garments and their names will not be blotted out of the Book of Life.
    They will wear crowns in heaven that are filled with stars representing the souls they have
          won for Jesus.
   
They will see Jesus face-to-face and follow Him wherever He goes.

The garment of Christ's righteousness can cover our filthiest rags (Zechariah 3:1-5). Jesus provides that white robe, His perfect life, to all who will accept it.

Have you accepted Jesus? If not, why not tell Him you want Him as your friend and Savior today?

The Church at Philadelphia
(The Missionary Church, A.D. 1790s-1840s)

Philadelphia, which means "brotherly love," was built on a hill overlooking two valleys. It was named for King Attalus II Philadelphus in honor of his loyalty to his elder brother who had preceded him on the throne. Today the prosperous town of Alasehir stands on the site. This church must have been remarkable. It received only commendations from Jesus—no rebukes!

Read Revelation 3:7-13.

19. What key does Jesus hold when He speaks to the church in Philadelphia? (Revelation 3:7.)
    The key of Abraham.
    The key of David.
    The key of Daniel.


20. How does Jesus describe Himself to the members of the Philadelphia church?
      (Revelation 3:7.)
    As the One who is holy and true.
    As the One who is all-knowing and all-seeing.
   
As the One who is alive after being dead.

Philadelphia represents a time period in the nineteenth century when great evangelical and Advent movements revitalized the church. Believers established the British Missionary Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society, and the Sunday School Movement. They also founded many private church colleges. Revival propelled the church forward as never before. The church was able to present Jesus to tens of thousands—the opportunity was "an open door that no one can shut." Also, the "open and shut door" symbolizes the beginning of the investigative judgment and Jesus' ministry in the Most High Place of the sanctuary in heaven. (More on this in another lesson.)

21. For what does Jesus praise the church members at Philadelphia? (Revelation 3:8.)
    For forgiving those who have persecuted them and for treating their enemies with love.
    For their patience and their willingness to serve others.
    For keeping His word and not denying His name.

22. What does Jesus promise to the members at Philadelphia who overcome? (Revelation 3:12.)
    They will shine throughout eternity as examples of God's love to others.
    They will be pillars in His temple and He will write on them His new name.
    They will never die.

Maybe at times you feel opposed by friends and family because you are a Christian. If so, cling to God's promise that He will give you a new name and a special place with Him in heaven! What would you like to ask God to do for you in your Christian life? Pray and ask Him right now to answer your prayer.

The Church of Laodicea
(The Lukewarm End-time Church, A.D. 1840s–Second Coming of Jesus)

The seventh and final church is Laodicea. This city was a wealthy center of commerce; its citizens specialized in the production of woolen goods. Its medical school was famous for an eye ointment. Laodicea also boasted bubbling hot springs a few miles out of town. The people managed to pipe this water into the city, but it was sickeningly lukewarm by the time it got to their homes.

Read Revelation 3:14-22.

The message to Laodicea is quite sobering; it contains only warnings. This church represents the time period in which we are living. It is pictured as a church of compromise, neither hot nor cold.

Why would God want a church to be cold instead of lukewarm? (vss. 15, 16)

23. What does the church at Laodicea think about itself? (Revelation 3:17.)
    That it is the least important of the seven churches.
    That it is rich and in need of nothing spiritually.
    
That it is the church for which Jesus feels the most concern.

24. What prescription does Jesus give to the Laodicean church members to correct their
     problems? (Revelation 3:18.)
    They should buy from Jesus refined gold, white garments, and eye salve.
    They should buy from Jesus precious gems, spices, and expensive perfume.
   
They should buy from Jesus houses, servants, and good things to eat.

25. What makes a Christian spiritually rich? (Ephesians 2:7-9.)
    Obedience to God's commandments.
    The gifts of the Holy Spirit.
   
God's grace.

26. What is represented by the white clothes that Jesus advises the Laodiceans to buy from
     Him? (Isaiah 61:10.)
    The robe of God's righteousness.
    The forgiveness with which God covers our sins.
   
The characters which we develop as we obey God.

27. What is represented by the eye salve that Jesus advises the Laodiceans to buy from
     Him? (1 Corinthians 2:9-14.)
    The ability to see clearly what others should do to improve their relationship with Jesus.
    The spiritual discernment that comes when the Holy Spirit is in our lives.
   
The cleansing of our sins through baptism.

§ § §

Glenn Loury personally discovered that God's promise is true. Glenn had reached the pinnacle of his profession as a tenured professor at Harvard, yet he was haunted by a sense that life had no meaning. He'd even begun using drugs and alcohol to fend off his depression.

After spending some time in a substance abuse program, Glenn decided maybe he should start reading the Bible. One Easter weekend he ventured into a church and heard a powerful sermon about redemption. This sophisticated professor found himself weeping for two hours as he realized his great need of forgiveness.

As Glenn began to attend regular Bible studies, he realized that "there was something real to this Christian business." He'd always built intellectual detours around his need for faith. But now he saw that God really did want to have a relationship with him. God was knocking on the door, and Glenn opened up his heart.

After that, things in his life began to change. Dead relationships came to life. He found joy in a new commitment to his family. He was discovering "a richness of meaning that I dreamed of but never believed to actually exist."

Glenn Loury says this about the result of welcoming Christ into his life: "Only now do I know joy beyond my wildest expectation, even though my time is often not my own, and I have since lost the taste for the hedonistic delicacies which I used to savor. Life has such a sweetness. Instead of 'Life has no meaning,' my wife, Linda, now sometimes overhears me saying, 'Thank You, Lord.' "

At the end of these messages to the seven churches, Jesus is standing at the door and knocking. He is seeking to come in. He is knocking on the door of your heart, saying, "If you want, open the door and let Me come into your life." What will be your answer to Jesus?

 

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