Polycarp. Anyone ever heard of him? Many people have not heard of him. Many people will probably never hear about him. And I doubt any of us will name a kid after him someday. If you will indulge me for a moment let me tell you a little about Polycarp.Polycarp was a pupil of John, the author of Revelation.1 Polycarp may have been the bishop of the church at Ephesus during the time in which John wrote Revelation. Polycarp was faithful unto death. He was asked to renounce Christ. The proconsul urged him to swear against Christ and he would be set free. Polycarp’s reply was “Eighty and six years have I served him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and My Savior?” The proconsul was not satisfied with the answer so once again he asks and Polycarp replied “Hear me declare with boldness I am a Christian.” The proconsul then threatened him with wild beasts to devour him and if Polycarp did not repent he would be burned with fire. Polycarp replied: “Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but art ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou wilt.” Shortly after Polycarp was burned at the stake.
Polycarp was faithful to Jesus even though it cost him his life. His life was all about Jesus. Perhaps he was the one who read the book of Revelation aloud to the church at Ephesus. We can not be sure. We can say this much Polycarp was all about Jesus and the book of Revelation is all about Jesus. I included this account because I wanted us to see into which setting John was writing this letter. He knew that this life we live in is all about the victory that Jesus and his church has won over Satan and his helpers, which once again is also the theme of Revelation.
As we come to chapters two and three we have letters from Jesus to the Seven churches of Asia. These seven letters draw upon the vision we saw of Jesus in chapter one. Jesus is the protector and purger of the church. This will come into view even more in these chapter. These were actual churches at the time when John wrote Revelation but they represent the church of all time. The seven letters do not give us seven different dispensations of history. They are meant for the church as a whole. So we can say what was applicable to these churches individually is applicable to the church as a whole. Once again we must also think like the original recipients would have thought. How did this letter affect them, what did it mean to them?
Unfortunately this morning we will not have time to get through all of the seven letters. One goal of preaching is to enable believers to be able to read their Bible better. My prayer and desire is that you can take what we look at this morning and use it to find the meaning in the remaining letters we will not get to at this point.
For each letter we will look at five different things. We will look at the commendation, the condemnation, the correction, the consequence, and the conquerors promise.
Ephesus would have been very near and dear to John. John was the bishop of this church and was acquainted well with it. Paul visited Ephesus during his missionary journeys. The city of Ephesus itself was also a very important city. It was a prosperous city and was home to the temple of Diana. Merchants made money in this town by selling models of the temple of Diana. It was a splendid thing to behold. We even see in Acts where a riot was started because these merchants saw Christianity as a threat to their livelihood.
In each of these letters Jesus greets these churches with a description of Himself. All of them are directly from the things we learned about Jesus in chapter one. To Ephesus we see the words of Him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. Keep in mind that the designation tie in with each church and a part of the letter.
Jesus knows their works, their toils, patient endurance, and how they cannot bear with those who are evil. Evidently there were some who claimed to be apostles in this church but the church at Ephesus had tested them and found them to be false. Ephesus was concerned with doctrinal correctness you could say. They would take what people taught and they would hold it up to the light of the scripture.
They did not grow weary in this task but they were enduring patiently and bearing up for the Name of Christ. We must note that Jesus commends them for this. There are many today in our culture who think that doctrine, truth, are inconsistent with Jesus, or that this is not something Jesus is concerned with. Nothing could be further from the trust.
The description of Jesus is meant to encourage the ministers of the church who had remained faithful even when these false apostles attacked the church. It is meant to encourage the church because Jesus is in their midst.
The Ephesians quest to be faithful to the truth was commended by Jesus. Jesus was exalted because of what this church was doing. As we get to verse four there is a but. Think how this church may have been thinking. “Hey we are doing alright!” “Look at what Jesus said about us!” Then there is a BUT. Jesus has something against them. The Ephesians have abandoned the love they had at first. They were concerned with the truth, but it was disconnected from love.
We must answer the question what does Jesus mean by they lost their first love? There are three views on this. One is that it refers to their love of Jesus. The second refers to their loss of love for others. And the third view says that both are in view. All may be in view in here. As believers though are responsibility is to love Jesus. As we love Jesus our love for others will increase.
The Ephesians had lost their love for Jesus. May this serve as a warning for us also. It is so tempting to be doctrinally correct. We are reformed. We use our minds. We think critically. Many times to out failure perhaps we lose love for others. I will be the first to admit that I can fall prey to this. I many times think I was not born with an empathetic bone in my body. I can have a no nonsense mentality at times when maybe I should not. Can we also lose sight of Jesus if we focus on doctrine? Of course we can. We can begin to view Jesus more as an idea or theological category than as a person, than as the God of this world. We can also lose our first love if we are not careful.
This church may have been down after this short verse. They had lost their love for Jesus. But Jesus offers a solution to them. Jesus calls them to do three things.
The first is to remember from where they had fallen. Jesus calls them to remember the love they had for Him at first. Many times new believers are so on fire. They love Jesus so much because of what He has done for them. But shortly they get bogged down. The world gets to them, or maybe they sin again and their love for Jesus may begin to wane. There is hope though. Jesus says to remember from where you have fallen. Jesus still loves us even when we may not love Him with the love we should.
Secondly, after they remember from where they have fallen, they are to repent. They are to love Jesus as they should. They are to turn away from the loveless Christianity to one that is overflowing in love for Jesus. They are to turn back to loving Jesus.
Thirdly they are to do the works they did at first. The works they did at first is the testing of the false apostles. They are to still be doctrinally correct, but their desire to be correct should spawn from their love of Jesus. They had lost their focus. Their focus turned from Jesus. Their eyes were not all about Jesus. They may have known doctrine, but their knowledge was not driven by a love for Jesus.
If the church at Ephesus will not do what Jesus commands then Jesus will come and take their lampstand away from them. Jesus will remove their lampstand from it’s place. As we look at this we must keep in mind the vision John had in chapter one is expanded, if you will, in these letters. Jesus is walking in the midst of the lampstands, which represent the seven churches. If Jesus comes and removes their lampstands from them then could this mean they will no longer cease to be a church? If they have lost their love for Jesus. If all they care about is doctrinal correctness, which is important, then what are they if their is no love for Jesus. Can they be a church if they do not have love for the one who is the protector and purger of the church? They will cease to be a church if they do not repent of the lack of love they have for Jesus.
- CONQUERORS PROMISE
After Jesus’ stern warning of what will happen he commends them again by saying they hate the works of the Nicolaitans. We are not sure exactly who these people are or what they taught. Suffice it to say they were heretics. The Ephesians hate their works as does Jesus.
Then we see the conquerors promise in verse seven. John says He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches, which shows us that these letters were meant for all of the churches, it is meant for all believers. The one who conquers Jesus will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. The one who is faithful is given the promise of restoration of life as it is meant to be. The restoration of the enjoyment of Eden. “The allusion is to the bliss of heaven and the life of the new creation.” 2 The one who endures to the end will enjoy paradise. An eternity in the paradise of God. Spending eternity with Jesus the protector and purger of the church.
What are we to make of this? How can we as a church apply this? First we must remain vigilant in our quest to be faithful to the truth. Second we must not lose sight of why we are a church. We are a church that is to love Jesus above all else. Our love of Jesus should exceed our love for doctrine. Jesus must be our first love. The warning is that Jesus will remove the church’s lampstand who does not love him. The church that loves Jesus above all else, no matter what their number, is being obedient to Jesus. Thirdly, conquer! Endure to the end. Life may be tough now, but through Jesus we can conquer.
The letter to Smyrna is from the first and the last, who died and came to life.
Jesus knows this church’s tribulation and their poverty. Extreme poverty is meant here. These people were poor from a physical standpoint, but Jesus says they are rich. They are spiritually rich. They have what really matters in life. They love Jesus and they are faithful even in the midst of persecution. They are enduring slander of those who say they are Jews but are really a synagogue of Satan.
This church is faithful and Jesus does not have a rebuke for them. This may be because Jesus tells them what lies ahead for them. Jesus says do not fear what you are about to suffer. Instead of rebuke they are going to have to endure suffering. Smyrna had a large Jewish population and the Jews in this city were very close to the Roman leadership. The reason for some of their poverty, which could be suffering as well, was because of the Jews in this city. More suffering was to come though.
The devil is going to throw some of them into prison. The reason for the imprisonment is so that they may be tested. Even though the devil is going to throw them into prison this is a part of the plan of Jesus. Believers will have their faith tested at times. Testing is a part of the plan of God. We should not grow weary when we face testing. They will also have tribulation for ten days. The tribulation will be brief. This is also meant to encourage them. Jesus says you will have tribulation, but it is not going to last forever. It will be brief.
Jesus does not have to correct them, but exhorts them to stay faithful unto death and they will be given the crown of life. Literally Jesus is saying stay faithful even though it results in your death. Those who do will be given the crown of life by Jesus Himself. Would that encourage them or what? They will be given the crown of life, which is eternal life. These believers may have already had some in their midst lose their life because of their faith.
- CONQUERORS PROMISE
The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. The second death is when those who are not believers will be cast in to the lake of fire, into hell. Those who conquer through Jesus will not have to worry about this. They conquer death through Jesus.
This is where the self designation of Jesus comes in. Jesus is the first and the last and He died and came to life. Jesus conquered death and those who follow Him can conquer death as well. The sting of death is taken away for the Christian because we will be at home with Jesus. We will be with our Savior forever in eternity. Jesus calls these believers to be faithful unto death, be faithful even if it cost them their life, because death for the Christian is not the end. We will not be hurt by the second death. Death for the Christian has hope and meaning. Death for the unbeliever, for the non-Christian is nothing but doom. Those who conquer through Jesus will not be hurt by the second death.
To the church of Pergamum Jesus identifies Himself as the one who has the sharp two-edged sword.
Jesus knows where they dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Jesus will also say this is where Satan dwells. Pergamum was home to a god of healing which was worshiped under the emblem of a serpent, which to believers was the very symbol of Satan.3 Pergamum was also the capital of the province. So John may be drawing attention as well that this would have been personified in emperor worship. Even in the midst of all of this, this church did not deny their faith in Jesus. They were faithful even in the days of Antipas, who was Jesus’ faithful witness, a title used for Jesus as well, who was killed. They did not let their faith sway even when one among them was killed because he would not renounce his faith in Jesus.
So far it sounds good. They were faithful even in the midst of one of their own being killed, once again there is a but. Jesus has a few things against them.
The church had some there who held the teaching of Balaam. Balaam taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. Remember the story of Balaam? The King of Moab was going to war against Israel. He did not think he could do it on his own so he called up Balaam to put a curse on the Israelites. Whenever Balaam would attempt to curse Israel though all he could do is bless them. After a while of this he could see that the king of Moab was not very happy with what he was saying. So he told the King to seduce them into sexual immorality and to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols. There were some in this church who held to this and were practicing this. This practice was causing people not to be faithful to Jesus.
There were also some there who held to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. The same heresy that we saw in the letter to the church at Ephesus. These people were causing others to be spiritually unfaithful, they were not faithful to Jesus.
Both of these teachings show us that there was a lack of concern for the truth in this church. They were allowing heresy to infiltrate the church and there were people openly practicing it. No doubt some of this lack of concern could have been from the pressure that if they did not associate with these people some would lose their jobs and their livelihood. Perhaps the ones who were associated with this were justifying it in their mind and saying as long as I know and believe that an idol is nothing I am fine, or as long as I attend this feast where sexual immorality is going on but I am not a partaker then surely that is fine. Jesus no! Jesus has this against you. Jesus is against this practice and He is against these teachings.
The way this church was to correct this problem is by repenting. Long story short they must stop and turn away from this and be faithful to the truth. They must protect the truth. Repentance means turning away from sin and turning to Jesus. This church was to renounce their sin and turn to Jesus. The way to protect against error is to preach the truth.4
If this church does not repent and turn from the sin that Jesus has against them He will come to them and He will war against them with the sword of His mouth. Once again this is where Jesus’ self identification comes in. Not only will Jesus come but He will come soon. There is an urgency to this. Error and sin in the church must be dealt with swiftly, and with love. Jesus will war against those who hold to this teaching. The timing of this is not referring to the second coming of Jesus. It refers to his intervention through His providence.
- CONQUERORS PROMISE
The one who conquers will be given some of the hidden manna. Commentators are all over the place on what the hidden manna means. Some think it may refer to a hidden pot of manna Jeremiah hid. Others think it is heavenly or celestial food. If we stick with our focus that the book of Revelation is all about Jesus, it is a Revelation of Jesus, then it would seem that the hidden manna is referring to Jesus. Listen to John 6:47-51: “Truly, Truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one might eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” “God promises to give the believer true spiritual bread the unbelieving world cannot see: Jesus Christ.”5
Secondly the one who conquers will be given a white stone with a new name written on it that no one know except the one who receives the stone. Once again people are all over the place on this one as well. We must be careful here and think what would the first century believer thought this would have meant? There are three views here that seem likely. One is that the stone is referring to a stone that was given to the victor of a game. The stone was given to the one who won as an entrance, or a ticket if you will into a banquet. So what John would be saying here according to this view is that the one who conquers will be given this white stone as an entrance into the marriage supper of the Lamb.
The second view says that the stone represents the person receiving it. Being that it is white signifies that they are holy and pure. Since it is a stone this represents that the person has durability or imperishability.It expresses the true inner character of the person receiving the stone.6
The last view is that the white stone is an acquittal stone. During ancient times in a courtroom setting the jury would either present a white or black stone for their decision. If the stone was white it showed the person to be innocent. According to this view then the populace of Pergamum had given these people a verdict of guilty, because they were followers of Christ, but Jesus gives them this stone to show that they are guilty and it is an assurance of eternal life.7
From a first century mindset which is the biblical view? It would seem that in the context we could use either the first view of the victor of the games being given the stone to enter into the banquet since in the context Jesus is talking about the one who conquers. So the one who conquers is given this stone as their entrance to the marriage supper of the lamb. We could also see from the fact that Antipas was killed for his faith where the third view would work as well. The population of Pergamum was against the believers, but Jesus is for them and He declares them innocent and gives them an assurance of eternal life. Either view could be right here and not do harm to the context. We will have to say at this point that we will not know for sure what the white stone means on this side of heaven. One thing we know for sure this would have been meant to encourage the believers in Pergamum. Both of these offer these believers assurance of eternal life.
The white stone they are given will have a new name written on it. The new name represents the new character of the person.8 A name back then meant more than it does now. Name in ancient times represented the character of a person. It was what that person stood for. When we are in glory with Jesus we will have a glorified body, we will have a new nature. This is the new name that is written upon the stone. It is something that only this person and Jesus know.
Jesus writes these letters to His churches to encourage them, to rebuke them, to call them to repentance, and to give them a promise.
What should we do with these letters? It would be best if we looked at them from the standpoint of the whole church, Grace Community Church, as opposed to the individual believer. What applies for the church also applies to the individual as well. We want Revelation to be applicable today in the here and now.
First we must love Jesus above all else. If we as a church lose sight of Jesus then we no longer have any reason to be a church. Jesus is the protector and purger of the church. Without Jesus there is no church. A place may have the name church in their name but if they care nothing for Jesus they are merely a social club.
Second we must let out love for Jesus drive us to protect his truth. We must be vigilant in how we defend the truth. We must care about doctrine. To often the church is to worried about being politically correct that doctrine and truth are thrown by the wayside.
Third, if there is any sin in our midst we must repent. That is not always a popular message, and to be honest I do not like it, but this is what Jesus has called His church to do. We must repent or else there will be discipline from Jesus and He will work through His providence to punish it.
Fourthly we must be faithful to Jesus at all costs. Jesus called the church at Smyrna to be faithful even if it cost them their life. Are we that faithful? Do we care enough to be that faithful? Do we love Jesus enough to be faithful?
Last conquer. Conquer through Jesus and hold precious His promises to those who conquer.
Read the third lesson in this series A Heavenly Perspective