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What Issues Faced The Seven Churches Of Asia?

by Glyn Jones

The one dictating the book of Revelation is Jesus Christ; Jesus Himself as the Son of God is giving to John words for the churches and also the visions and revealing of future events (Rev. 1:4). The book is dated under the reign of Emperor Domitian - history points to him as having banished the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos about A.D. 95. John was released according to history by Emperor Nerva about A.D. 96-98.

The one speaking is Christ as Almighty God. (Rev. 1:17-18) “And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” (Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 21:6-7; 22:12-13)

When the message is addressed to the “angel of the church” an angel is simply a messenger or agent. ( Rev. 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.”

Angels can be men - (Mk. 1:2; Lk. 7:27; 9:52; Gal. 4:14). Seeing that the message is for the churches to hear, (Rev 1:11 & 2:7), not directed to unseen spirits. The stars are the leadership of the church such as Elders, preachers, teachers - these are God’s messengers - it’s for them to make sure the word of the Spirit is given to the candlesticks which represent the whole congregation. Both the stars and the candlestick should be givers of light and can be removed (Rev. 2:5; Jn. 15:1).

It’s impossible to look at every thing concerning these churches in one lesson and all the many good things the Lord praises them for, but we can say that it’s necessary to tell a church it’s doing well, encourage it to keep what it has and feel honoured in pleasing God. This lesson seeks to look at the problems each church faced. Just as these problems faced the early church, so too we can take heed to the rebukes our Lord gives and apply them to the church today, for many of these problems keep recurring today. Just as the Lord pointed to problems in one congregation and to different errors of another church, so we too must see every church as different with its own set of problems and its different pressures from without; each one needs to be warned and corrected. (Heb.12:9) “Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?”

Remember God did not say these things to simply make things hard on His children, but the corrections are for our own good. If the church be not subject to Christ, it has no reverence for God and is a church with no head. Like a headless body, it’s dead - (Col. 1:19).

1. Ephesus - Rev 2:1-7

They had Labour : in Greek, kopos, work, toil, labour. Patience or Perseverance. (Rev. 2:2) “... 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:”

This church was not being tossed about by false doctrine. They exposed false teachers and tested them -(Eph. 5:17; 1 Jn 4:1). This church was sound in its teaching. (Rev. 2:3) “And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.” They had not weakened or grown weary - they stood firm (1 Cor. 16:13). Yet despite all this, being able to refute all the false doctrine in the world is not enough.

(Rev. 2:4 -5) “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”

To leave thy first Love (agape) can cause a congregation to be rejected and cease to be a church of Christ. They needed to get back to doing the “first works”. Many Christians go through a “honey moon” stage and when it’s over the love of God in their lives cools off.

The work they are now doing is not with the same eagerness, joy and desiring love in one’s heart for God as before. You see many works as in Vs. 2-3 can be performed simply out of habit, and mechanically driven.

To leave thy first love is a problem of the heart. Every member of the church must take a good honest look at himself. I suspect many brethren fall into this lack of love for God and don’t even know it, especially if they’re attending worship and living a morally good life.

(Rev. 2:6) “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.” They felt how the Lord felt towards error. They had the right motive in their hearts against this false sect and they abhor that which is evil - (Rom. 12:9). However, they needed to love as the Lord loves. If a church will not love the Lord, making Him the centre of their affection and interest, it must repent. We must Love his word, not just know it - (2 Thess. 2:10). (Matt. 22:37) “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”

The church must repent and return to having Christ as their everything in life. He must be your life, and the members of every congregation must treasure so dearly the kingdom of God. (Matt. 6:21) “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

2. Smyrna - Rev 2:8-11

(Rev. 2:9-10) “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

We notice no rebuke to these brethren at Smyrna, but they were about to undergo strong persecution, this was something of a problem brought about from outside the church. The sin and pressure brought about by the world can many times affect the church. We know from history that Polycarp, who knew the Apostle John, was put to death at Smyrna. He was 90 years old when he was buried at the stake. The account recorded by Eusebius shows that he was faithful till death. At one point Polycarp said: “You threaten fire that burns for a moment and is soon extinguished, for you know nothing of the judgment to come, and the fire of eternal punishment reserved for the wicked. But why do you delay ? Bring what you wish.”

Christians must not back down even in the face of death, but have full confidence in God. Brethren can become fearful of the bad economy, loss of job or other cares of the world - just worried they will miss out on the good life - the slightest persecution from friends and family. (Heb. 13:5 - 6) “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” - (Matt 10:28). (2 Tim. 3:12) “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”

The church at Smyrna had a real danger of some maybe struggling to stand firm under such pressure. Comfort, reassurance and being forewarned is needed to help the church be faithful unto death and even if it means death. Churches today must not become cowardly, fearful, or easily shaken in the face of any opposition. To do so will cause the church to be ashamed of Christ and his word. (Lk. 9:26; 2 Tim 1:7). Jesus taught us in Lk. 18:1b “...that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”

3. Pergamos - Rev. 2:12-17

(Rev. 2:13) - “I know thy works and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.”

Where Satan’s seat or throne is: a seat of power and control. Pergamos was a stronghold of Satan, being a centre of religious error and idolatry. It was a centre for the worship of Zeus, Athena, and Aesculapius - the son of Apollo, a patron of healing and worshipped under the form of a serpent. In art Aesculapius is depicted as a mature man holding a staff entwined with a serpent. Harmless snakes were kept in his temples. Surgeons and priests worked together to heal the sick. His staff became the symbol of medicine and worn by naval surgeons today. Also there were other gods such as Dionysus, Demeter as well as Emperor worship made strong under Domitian. This church had also experienced suffering as Antipas a faithful servant was put to death. Yet Christ claims him as his own faithful servant.

(Rev. 2:14-15) - “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.”

The account of Balaam and Balac who put a stumbling block to Israel is found in Numbers ch. 22-25 where the King of Moab, Balac, wanted Balaam to come and curse God’s people for him. (Num. 25:1-3) - “And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.” The children were led away to worship false gods when Gentile women were introduced to them by the counsel of Balaam (Num. 31:16-17; 2 Pet 2:15; Jude 11).

We see this sect of the Nicolaitans, which were hated by the Lord and the church at Ephesus, were by some in Pergamos holding to this teaching. That was like Balaam’s instruction in how to cause Israel to stumble. This teaching caused Christians to throw off the moral restraints given in the Gospel - some were partaking with idols and fornication.

(Rev. 2:16) - “Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” No church can afford to allow false doctrine that leads people back into low morals. God will fight against you with the sword of His mouth. (2 Cor. 10:4 -5) - “(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” Remember the Lord Himself will deal with those in the church that hold to such false ways. When the Bible rebukes falsehood, it is Christ that is speaking. It is Christ that calls for any congregation to repent of false doctrine.

4. Thyatira - Rev. 2:18-29

It must be said this city boasted of more trade guilds than any other its size, and this was a problem to the early church, as one would find it difficult to pursue one’s trade without being a member of these many guilds. The meetings were not just about one’s common trade but bound up in pagan worship and acts of immorality, as well as doing many admirable functions.

(Rev. 2:19-22) - “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.”

Note: The Lord praises their work of late - they were growing and active, their works of late were improving. Yet even in the midst of such spiritual growth, love and service in the gospel, they sinned in this congregation by allowing Jezebel, a false prophetess, to influence its members. Whether she was really called this by name or the Lord was comparing her to Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Zidonians, who had married king Ahab of Israel and her influence on her husband did more to provoke the Lord than any of the other Kings (1 Kings 16:29-33). He erected Temples to Baal and maintained 400 prophets of Baal. The Jezebel in this church was allowed to influence the church that suffered her. Thyatira sinned by simply tolerating error. It is possible to be so long suffering as to be uncaring about error or sin and be guilty of participating in it. (1 Cor. 5:1) - “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.”

Note Vs. 21 - God gives space to repent. God gives time for correction for those in error to consider their state. But God will not tolerate sin in the church when man may allow it. The church cannot and must not allow doctrines to run free that lead to compromise with the world, false devotion, fornication or anything that is a doctrine of demons. To do so is spiritual adultery (Vs 22). The church is married to Christ (Rom 7:1-4). Tribulation will come on those who hold to her teaching. God will punish sin (Heb. 12:5-11; 3:17-18; 1 Cor. 11:29-31; Jn 8:24).

(Rev. 2:24) - “But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.” Many did not agree with this doctrine but just allowed it to have a free run in the church. The only burden they have is not to repent of following error but to now stand up and expose it and speak out against it (2 Jn. 10-11; 1 Tim. 5:22; 2 Cor. 6:17-18; Eph 5:11). (Rev. 2:25) - “But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.”

5. Sardis Rev - 3:1-6

(Rev. 3:1-3) - “And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.”

A very sorry and sad state existed in this church. They had a name and a good reputation. Some churches are more interested in protecting their own reputation and worried about what others may think. These want others to see them as alive, more so than what the Lord thinks of them and actually being alive and active for God. Many waste their energy on protecting a name than preserving their souls.

Some really have no interest in prayer, Bible study, encouraging acts of evangelism, or putting any joy in their worship, and this affects the church as a whole. We know in every church you will get those that want to be a Christian without doing anything, but when that becomes the common feeling in a congregation it is dead. (James 2:17) - “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”

The state of deadness is applied to the prodigal or lost son (Lk. 15:24). Sin in the lives of members of the church can cause them to return to a state of spiritual death (Eph. 2:1).

It may be the case that a dead church suffers no heresy problems, or hard persecution. Satan does not need to have false teachers within, or opposition without, because a dead church ceases to be a force in the town. They are falling away because of their own lack of commitment and apathy. It’s like the preacher said to one of the members, “You know the two things wrong with the church today is ignorance and apathy.” The member said “I wouldn't know and I don’t care.” It is difficult to inform a church about some of the issues in this lectureship, and warn of any other problems, if they have little interest in the work and progress of the church.

Watchful- they needed to wake up to themselves . (1 Thess. 5:4-6) “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober”. (Rom. 13:11-14; 1 Cor 16:13). An alert, watchful Christian is not looking back on past reputations but to be dreaming and planning new works for Christ and determined to grow. Some things were ready to die, like a smouldering flame ready to go out, or a plant drying up - with a rekindling and a good watering they can burn for God again and flourish once more.

But repentance is called for on many of the members not just a few. Their works or deeds must be perfect, complete before God. A church must go all the way with God - you can't be a half baked Christian. You can not be a Christian without giving your all and your very lives to Christ (Lk. 9:57-62). If there is no repentance and change to overcome their own deadness many names will be blotted out of the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 3:5).

(Rev. 3:4) “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy”. There was a remnant, a few not identified as dead (To defile your garments is to live an uncommitted life). I’m sure these faithful few felt burdened and grieved at the lifelessness and lack of enthusiasm of other members.

6. Philadelphia - Rev 3:7-13

This is a second church similar to that in Smyrna, and like Smyrna the Lord repeats the expression in Vs 9 “synagogue of Satan” referring to false Jews. The Jews were persecuting the true followers of God, so Philadelphia had similar problems to those Smyrna had facing them. The Lord gives no rebuke for wrong doing in the church. This, however, does not mean Christ was not looking hard enough. This should serve as an example to us as preachers not to simply be in search of a problem to preach about - being a mote hunter in the congregation; or developing a spirit of meanness and harshness in an already struggling congregation. Simply taking out your own frustrations on the church is not addressing problems as they ought. (1 Thess. 2:7-8) - “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us”.

(1 Thess. 2:11) - “ As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children. Like a father and nursing mother we should have the right caring attitude in our hearts for the church” (Rev. 3:8) - “I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name”.

The Lord had set an open door before the church - the door of opportunity for their deeds and service in preaching. (1 Cor. 16:9) - “For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.” (Col. 4:3) - “Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds.” Also, (2 Cor. 2:12; Acts 14:27; Eph. 2:10). We learn from this that it is God, not us who opens the door for us to work and closes the door when the time or situation is not right (Acts 16:6).

They were granted this open door due to their little strength (Greek -dunamis -power, might, ability, strength). In the parable of the talents, we read in (Matt. 25:15) - “And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability (same word dunamis); and straightway took his journey”. This was not that this church was weak spiritually. God said it was faithful “and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name”. Just as the men in the Parable had different abilities to use in God’s service, this church at Philadelphia had little power in comparison to other congregations. Yet God allows them to still serve according to their own capacity at this time. God has always been able to allow those that may seem weak or small to still achieve many victories for Him - Gideon, Samson, David, Samuel, Elijah & Elisha.

(2 Kings 6:19) - Because God is with them. So God will make it possible for this church to serve Him (Eph 3:20; Matt 17:20). (Rev. 3:10) - “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth”.

God is promising protection from this trial. Just as he has power to open and shut doors, so he has the power to protect the church from trials. (1 Pet 1:5; 2 Pet 2:9; Jude 22-24; Lk 22:31-32). There is spiritual protection we have with God, yet all Christians may go through trials and will be tested for our own good. Satan said to God concerning Job (Job 1:9 -12) “Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord”.

7. Laodicea -Rev 3:14-22

This city was known for its treatment of eye diseases. It produced an ointment for sore eyes. The city was very wealthy. About A.D. 61, the city was destroyed by an earthquake. From the writings of Tacitus the city recovered without relief from Rome, unlike other cities that needed help. (Rev. 3:17) - “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind”, They had the wrong estimation of themselves, they said “we are rich”.

(Prov. 11:28) “He that trusteth in his riches shall fall: but the righteous shall flourish as a branch” (cf. 1 Tim 6:9-10)Laodicea was unlike Smyrna who were poor yet rich with God - (Rev. 2:9). Their physical state was no indication of spiritual richness, for the Laodiceans were poor - they had no treasure in heaven (Matt. 7:19-20).

They were wretched - worthless, pitiful condition, blind, could not see how they ought to act as Christians. (2 Pet. 1:9) - “But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins”

One of the striking things about this is what the Lord did not say. He gave no praise and said nothing good about this congregation except in Rev. 3:19 - “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent”.

Rev. 3:15 -16 - “ I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth”. This church was lukewarm - a lukewarm church and a lukewarm member is no good to God and is in a state of being rejected by God. Brethren will not have salvation if they are a lukewarm member in a lukewarm church. These Brethren were doing the maximum of the minimum - just doing enough Christianity to ease the conscience. They had one foot in the world and one just dangling about in the church, just to have a bit of Heaven later on. They were doing just enough to be useless to the Lord. They were not really with the Lord. Matt. 12:30 - “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad. Rev 3:16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth”.

Rev. 3:19 - “ As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent”. Many churches today need to repent - that’s the only way back for some congregations in Australia. The Lord rebukes those He loves like any loving Father will. (Heb. 12:6-8). Churches of Christ need to be zealous or they will cease to be the Lord’s church. Any faithful church of Christ is an enthusiastic church, putting their hearts into the work and feeling good and eager about serving God, being on fire for Him.

Rev. 3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me”. This is for members of the church to consider and let the Lord back into their lives once again.

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