Who is worthy to open the book? Revelation 5 ushers in one of the most important prophetic climaxes in heaven. John sees God seated on His throne, and in His right hand is a book (like a scroll) with writing inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals.
And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?‘
Revelation 5:2 NASB
Much to John’s chagrin, no one is worthy–whether in heaven, on earth, or under the earth. John’s hopelessness breaks into devastated weeping until one of the elders intervenes.
…and one of the elders said to me, ‘Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.’
Revelation 5:5 NASB
Jesus, the Overcomer
Only one person in all of creation has overcome to be worthy to open the book. Jesus, the Lion from the tribe of Judah and the Root of King David, appears as the sacrificial Lamb of God. The Lamb has seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God He sends into all the earth. After He takes the book from God’s hand, glorious praise and worship crescendos in heaven.
Where does God keep our prayers?
When the four living creatures and elders fall on their knees before the Lamb, each elder holds a harp and golden bowls full of incense. Inside these golden bowls are the prayers of the saints–yours and mine. Isn’t it amazing that our prayers are collected and will be presented to Jesus on this day? How reassuring to know that God keeps and safeguards every prayer we pray in heaven.
Sing a new song
At the Coronation of King Charles III, a new song was composed for that happy occasion. On the other hand, Elton John composed and sang a new song at the funeral of Princess Diana. As great ceremonies call for new songs, it’s the same in heaven. Here are the lyrics we will sing to the Lamb of God when He takes the scroll from God’s hand:
‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon theearth.‘
Revelation 5:9-10 NASB
Following this, John witnesses a vast number of angels around the throne, described as “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands.” These continue worshiping the Lamb, saying with loud voices, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing’ (Revelation 5:12 NASB).
All creation joins in mighty praise
Finally, all the rest of God’s creation–in heaven, on and under the earth, and on and under the seas–join in praise, saying,
‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.’
Revelation 5:13b NASB
The four living creatures said, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Revelation 5:14 NASB
We are anxiously awaiting that glorious day. All of heaven and earth will lift loud voices of praise and worship to both Father God and His Son. The breaking of these seals signifies the beginning of the Tribulation on Earth.
Thank you, dear Father God, that Your Son is worthy to take the scroll and break its seals. We praise You and give You all the glory, for You are worthy of worship and of our praise. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.“
Revelation 3:20 NKJV
Welcome to our final destination, Laodicea. Of all the churches, this seventh church possessed a strategic location in regards to commerce and trade. Consequently, it was very powerful and extremely wealthy; so rich, in fact, that they didn’t need finances from Rome to rebuild after an earthquake demolished the city. Secondly, it was famous for its black wool, which was woven into carpets and used for making luxurious clothing. Third, people with certain eye diseases came from far and wide for its famous eye treatments. The Phrygian eye ointment manufactured there was exported all over the Roman world.
However, Laodicea’s physical location had one major drawback: a lack of water. Aqueducts piped in water from miles away, but the end product contained lots of minerals that made it taste horrible. Even worse was its temperature: neither hot nor cold, but sickeningly lukewarm.
These three industries — finance, wool, and eye salve — directly played out in Christ’s stern words to this church.
And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.”
Revelation 3:14-19 NKJV
How Jesus describes Himself to Laodicea
Let’s be mindful of Christ’s description of Himself to each church, as it specifically relates to His messages to them. This is how He came to Laodicea:
As the Amen, Jesus is God’s final word to the human race, the word of truth. 2 Corinthians 1:20 says, For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.
Jesus is faithful and true, first to God, and then to us. As our faithful High Priest, He speaks only truth, and we can trust what He tells us. Psalm 33:4 says, For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.
Jesus is the source of God’s creation. Paul clarifies this in Colossians 1:15-17:The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Neither cold nor hot
Following His introduction, Jesus diagnosed this Laodicean church with the fatal disease of being lukewarm. Just as their piped-in water supply was tepid, so were their hearts toward God. Outwardly they appeared to check all the standard boxes, but the life-changing, transforming power that genuine faith produces was absent.
Due to their great wealth and material comfort, they considered themselves completely self-sufficient, lacking nothing. But Christ defined their spiritual condition as wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. This implies the imagery of a naked beggar, homeless and shivering in a blizzard, penniless and blind. Quite the opposite from how the wealthy, comfortable Laodicean church regarded itself.
What about the vast wealth that many churches possess today? Money may make us feel powerful and safe, but that is pure deception. Laodicea’s condition was exactly the opposite of Smyrna’s, a poor church to whom Jesus said, “I know your poverty, yet you are rich!” (Revelation 2:9). The Laodiceans suffered from spiritual blindness, unable to understand Christ’s true identity. They needed faith, the eyesight of the soul. Also, their nakedness implies sin patterns in need of a blood covering or atonement.
What currency would destitute, spiritually empty beggars use?
“You there! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost.”
Isaiah 55:1 NASB
Salvation is free for the asking. Every hungry and thirsty heart will be satisfied through Christ.
“…buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich;” This is the wealth found only in the crucifixion of Christ, spiritual riches of the kingdom of God that can never be taken away or lost. This gold is eternal for all believers.
“…and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed;” Jesus covers our sin (nakedness) with His righteous blood He purchased for us on the cross. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, we will stand before Him, clothed in His righteousness.
“…and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.“ Genuine faith opens our spiritual eyes to see the truth of God’s Word.
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” As believers, we can rest assured that Christ will always come after us if stray or begin to grow lukewarm. Just like the Good Shepherd in Psalm 23, Jesus always searches for the one lost sheep and brings him back to the fold. His rebuke and chastening are for our good, to discipline us and train us to grow in His righteousness. Let us repent and turn from our sins, and may the fire of our first love burn brightly for the world to see.
Open the door to His wonderful promises
‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.‘
Revelation 3:20-21 NKJV
These verses about Christ knocking at the door of our hearts are not only for evangelization, but they also apply to believers. The Laodiceans pushed Jesus outside the door of their hearts, forgetting how much they needed Him to survive. As believers, we need to be mindful of Jesus waiting for us to commune with Him through His Word and prayer. That is how we keep the fire burning brightly in our spirits.
‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.‘
Revelation 3:22 NKJV
Dear Father God, open our spiritual eyes and ears to Your truths. May the fire of Christ’s salvation burn brightly in our spirits. May we never turn lukewarm, making you want to vomit us out of Your mouth. Draw us back to You if we wander, and may we open the door of our hearts wide to invite You inside to commune with us and we with You. May we be overcomers and reign with You in Your eternal kingdom. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:”
Revelation 3:7 NASB
Welcome to the city of brotherly love, renowned for its great faithfulness. Located in a small volcanic valley about thirty miles from Sardis, Philadelphia was founded by Attalus II Philadelphus in 189 B.C. This city’s purpose was to spread Greek culture and language throughout the region, in addition to growing grapes for its wine industry. Consequently, the Philadelphians worshipped Dionysus, the god of wine, as their main idol.
As the second church to only receive commendationsfrom the Lord, it is important to first pay attention to the four attributes with which the angel describes Christ.
“He who is holy…”
“We find that throughout the Old Testament, God alone is absolutely holy, separated from sin, pure, and completely flawless. The title “Holy One” refers to a messianic title in the New Testament. Peter refers to Christ with this title in John 6:69. Peter calls the church to be holy in 1 Peter 1:16, and Christ Himself declared His holiness, claiming to be God in Luke 22:70.
“…who is true…”
In the Greek and Roman worlds, many false gods and goddesses existed, so Christ distinguishes Himself from them as the only true God.
The Greek word translated “truth” is aletheia, which most closely resembles our English word “reality.” It means “the manifested, unconcealed essence of a matter.” A living, saving faith depends upon the premise by man that God is true in His being and character. The truth forms the basis for a person’s conversion.
God promised King David that his throne would last forever, and one of his descendants would always sit upon his throne. Even Gabriel referred to Jesus possessing the throne of King David when the angel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the promised Messiah in Luke 1:31-33.
A key refers to one in authority, which we find in a prophecy in Isaiah 22:22. Eliakim would be David’s key-bearer, giving him the power of others’ access to the king. Jesus is now the key-bearer who has sole authority of others’ access to His Father and eternal life in heaven.
As saved believers, we gain access to the Father only through this key–the cross and the shed blood of Christ. Just as Revelation 1:18 reveals that Jesus holds keys to death and Hades, He also holds keys to blessing and opportunities for ministry.
“…who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens…”
Here we see the awesome power of our Lord to shut and open doors that no power can undo. His authority is the final authority.
Understanding these attributes awakens us to the realization of what a great and awesome God we serve!
Isn’t it interesting how Jesus reveals Himself to this Philadelphian church. Now let’s examine His promises to them.
‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have followed My word, and have not denied My name.‘
Revelation 3:8 NASB
Jesus had opened a door of ministry to this church, and they had been faithful to obey His Word and proclaim His Name. Although their power was weak and could have been stronger, they were faithful. Paul echoes this in II Corinthians 12:9 where he states that God’s grace is perfected in weakness. Therefore, we are encouraged that what matters is Christ’s power working through us as yielded vessels.
‘Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.’
Revelation 3:9 NASB
How could Jews be false? They might be circumcised outwardly, but their hardened hearts needed to have unbelief cut away. Philadelphia must have endured serious persecution from these unbelieving Jews who were really a synagogue of Satan. Jesus was going to reward this church by having these unbelievers submit and acknowledge that God loved these Christians. As in Psalm 23, God will prepare a table for us in the presence of our enemies. Such a wonderful and reassuring promise!
‘Because you have kept My word of perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of the testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who live on the earth.’
Revelation 3:10 NASB
The hour of testing refers to the tribulation, which is coming upon the whole world. This promise supports the pretribulationist viewpoint, that the church will be raptured at the beginning of the tribulation (see John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). This comforting promise isn’t just for Philadelphia, but for all believers on that future day.
A command and four final promises
‘I am coming quickly; hold firmly to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. The one who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Revelation 3:11-13 NASB
First, Jesus commands the faithful believers in Philadelphia to hold fast to what they have so their spiritual crown will be secure. Jesus exhorts the church to continue to be faithful and to patiently endure until He returns for them. Jesus had also promised the church in Smyrna the crown of life if they were faithful unto death. This faith will be proof of salvation, which no one can take from us. More importantly, those who have put their faith in Christ Jesus will be rewarded with eternal life lived in the presence of God.
The four final promises are:
Our salvation will be secure in heaven;
We will eternally and personally belong to God;
We will be citizens of God’s future city, New Jerusalem;
We will forever have our identify with the risen, glorified and exalted Lord Jesus Christ for all eternity.
This letter to faithful Philadelphia shows us that the holy and true God pours out His blessings on churches and individuals who are faithful to Him in all circumstances.
Dear Lord, may we be faithful to You, serve you as You open doors of ministry for us, and endure patiently in our persecution. We look forward to Your coming when You will rapture the church out of the tribulation. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. In Your Name we pray, Amen.
“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
Hebrews 3:12-13 NIV
Welcome to SARDIS
Known for its woolen, textile, and jewelry industries, Sardis may have been wealthy at one time, but that was in the past. Its location on top of a hill surrounded by steep cliffs gave it a false sense of protection. Twice attacked and conquered due to its arrogance and lack of watchfulness, this church perfectly illustrates how pride goes before a fall (See Proverbs 16:18).
Worship of the false mother-goddess Cybele, also known as Artemis, engaged the people in festivals of the most debased and impure kind. One of Sardis’ most important temples in the first century honored Artemis (i.e., Diana, goddess of the Ephesians). Additionally, this temple was twice as large as the Parthenon and the seventh largest Greek temple ever built. Unless worshippers donned clean, white clothes, the temple banned them from participating in temple activities.
Like Artemis, Christ expected His people in the church at Sardis to also approach Him wearing white garments, which represented a righteous life and heart. The problem focused on the majority of this church who had defiled their clothes through their apathy to the things of God.
The Sleeping Church
To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
Revelation 3:1-3 NIV
The way Jesus appeared to each church pinpointed its problems, and the same is true for Sardis. The reference to the seven spirits and seven stars explains this church’s lack of the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
The Seven Spirits of God
Although there is one Holy Spirit, He has a seven-fold ministry that allows us to experience genuine spirituality. As we walk by faith, the power of God enables us to deal with the sin in our lives through honest confession so that we don’t grieve and quench the Holy Spirit within us. (“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30 NASB). “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19 NASB)). Therefore, we see that this church was grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit’s ministry.
The Seven Stars
As Jesus told John in Revelation 1:20, “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.” Many believe the stars also refer to spiritual leadership, who brings forth the Word to the congregation. So, we can assume that the leadership failed to deliver the Word in a way that motivated believers to apply and respond to it. The lack of both the presence of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God resulted in its spiritual deadness. (See Ephesians 3:16-19; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 4:12.)
As busy as worker bees, Sardis looked good on the surface and enjoyed a stellar reputation as an alive church. But her deeds were not like the other churches, which Christ commended. Instead, these were unfinished and about to die. Christ commanded them to repent and return to the basic teachings of the gospel and again find the joy of salvation through obedience to the Word of God..
Let’s remember that deeds alone do not save us, but they are the basis for how we will be judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we did in righteousness, but in accordance with His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He richly poured out upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:5-8 NASB
Like Sardis, are we arrogant in our walk with the Lord, believing that we are elevated above evil to such a degree that we can relax and coast in our spiritual lives? Do we believe that we are so secure on our mountaintop that the enemy can never find a way to slip in and take us by surprise? Jesus warned sleeping Sardis that unless they repented, He would come like a thief in the night and swiftly bring divine judgment on them.
Promise to the Overcomers
‘The one who overcomes will be clothed the same way, in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. The one who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Revelation 3:5-6 NASB
Although the remnant of true believers in Sardis was weak, Jesus recognized them and promised three things:
#1: Their white garments represent the forgiveness of their sins through the shed blood of Christ.
Here they specifically refer to those who boasted in Christ and not in their past achievements. White garments mentioned in Revelation 7:14 refer to overcomers of the great tribulation; the twenty-four elders in 4:4; the martyrs in 6:11; and the church in 19:7-8 at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
#2: Christ assured them that He would never erase their names from the Book of Life.
The names of overcomers will never be blotted out, but those names not included were never there to begin with. In Revelation 13:8, the names of those who worship the beast are only found in the books of judgment, and never written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. (See 17:8 and 20:12.)
#3: Jesus promises to call out the names of believers to His Father and His angels in heaven.
He had made this same promise to His disciples in Matthew 10:32: “Therefore, everyone who confesses Me before people, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.” And in Luke 12:8: “Now I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before people, the Son of Man will also confess him before the angels of God;” He will commend each believer with the words each one longs to hear in Matthew 25:21: “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”
In conclusion, may we always examine our lives so that we find the confidence of our salvation in Christ and His shed blood alone. Let’s also remember Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi which exhorted them to not become like a Sardis church.
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to desire and to work for His good pleasure.
Philippians 2:12-13 NASB
Dear Lord, may we always be mindful of our spiritual lives so that we keep the fire of Holy Spirit and the Word of God alive in our hearts. May we be overcomers and stand before You, unashamed, on that glorious day. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.
“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and feet like burnished bronze, says this: ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith, and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first.’
Revelation 2:18-19 NASB
Welcome to Thyatira. Situated thirty-five miles east of Pergamum, it was known for its wool and textile industries, whose trade guilds also doubled as social and religious clubs. Thyatira also means a perfume, a sacrifice of labor.
Why did Jesus appear to this church with fiery eyes and burnished feet?
Bronze is a symbol of judgment. In the Old Testament, priests offered sacrifices on a brazen altar. Fire is also a symbol of purification from sin. Therefore, Jesus came to bring judgment and purification to this church.
First, Jesus commends them.
This church was overflowing with great faith as evidenced by their love for God and man. They persevered in their deeds, which continued to grow in strength and number. But in spite of these good things, He ends with a stern warning:
But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality.
Revelation 2:20-21 NASB
The issue with this church refers back to the same woman in 1 and 2 Kings–the woman who drew her husband, King Ahab, into idolatry, immorality, and false worship, and who helped him acquire a neighboring field by arranging the murder of its owner, Naboth. She worshipped Baal and killed God’s prophets. Read about her threat to kill Elijah HERE.
The main problem in Thyatira involved the church leadership preaching a compromising message, promising freedom from God’s moral laws. Pastors proclaimed that if the spirit were secure in salvation, then sexual sins and idol worship wouldn’t hurt them. The focus was on serving self and being accepted by the world.
Jezebel works with religion and witchcraft to hinder the church from moving forward and advancing the Kingdom. ~ John Eckhard
Does this sound familiar in some of today’s churches? But people can’t get away with these sins—even in our modern age. Listen to the consequences from the mouth of the Lord Himself:
Behold, I will throw her [Thyatira] on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.
Revelation 2:22-23 NASB
Wow, Jesus is adamant about severely punishing those who follow the Jezebel spirit. Rather ironic, don’t you think, that Jesus threw this church on a bed of sickness—the same bed where she had committed adultery.
Jezebel is one slick spirit that works in conjunction with the spirit of religion.
Here’s a modern-day picture: A legalistic church tells us we’re fine if we’ve kept its rules, resulting in self-righteousness. The pastorate also loves to bestow a title of importance on people seeking recognition from the world, which goes a long way. Church members, wearing these titles like golden crowns, might be ordered to work shifts every week or month, tithe a certain amount, or perform in some other area to serve the pastorate. Of course, volunteering and tithing are good things that all church members should do, but when they’re forced or bribed into it, that’s where the line is crossed into the Jezebel spirit.
We know from Scripture in Malachi 3:10 that those who tithe receive a blessing from God for their obedience. But the truth is that these rules don’t justify us in God’s eyes—faith does. We find our righteousness in the work of the cross and through trusting in Jesus who performed that work—not in just following the rules and being “religious.”
The Spirit of Witchcraft
Jezebel also works with another spirit—the spirit of witchcraft—which is very subtle and thus hard to detect unless you’re paying close attention. Hidden lies inside partial truths swirl together to twist our perspectives by highlighting our personal wants and needs. This pull distracts us from God’s will and grace for the work He has called us to do. Our focus lands squarely on our needs, promoting and justifying selfishness.
Witchcraft attacks our minds through controlling words.
Watch out for the get-rich-quick gospel where a person must send a seed offering in return for an anointing or a percentage return on a donation—especially when it’s just available to the first three hundred callers!
There are true blessings from heaven and true financial miracles, but we must watch out for Jezebel, full of deceit and lies, lurking to “fleece the flock.” Hence, we all must pray faithfully about the fertile soil where we sow our seeds and plant our tithes.
Another ploy of Jezebel is through the idolatrous gospel.
Unfortunately for many of today’s Western churches, their pastors are idolized by their congregations. Instead of running to Jesus and His Word, some run to the pastor and believe only what he says is gospel truth.
Let’s run to Jesus and idolize Him—not a mortal man who preaches from a platform.
What do you think? Why did Jesus so vehemently warn this Revelation church to repent of her Jezebel spirit of immorality? The severe consequences of disobedience were designed to stop people from following Jezebel’s idolatry and witchcraft.
Knowing that the Lord is patient so that all may come to salvation, these consequences were actually merciful and full of God’s grace. He is patient toward us as He waits with open arms for us to come to Him and receive His free gift of salvation. He concludes with a wonderful promise for overcomers:
But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them-I place no other burden on you. Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS; AND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Revelation 2:24-29 NASB
Dear Father, Deliver us from the Jezebel spirit that controls through the spirits of religion and witchcraft. Let us not be deceived in our walk of faith to believe lies that lead us into immorality or idolatry. May we be found faithful in our love, service, and perseverance for Your kingdom. Make us to be overcomers. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.
Our next stop? The Revelation Church in Sardis. Meet you there.
Welcome to Smyrna, whose congregation suffers perhaps the greatest persecution in all Christianity. As a materially poor church located in a wealthy city, their faithful works performed in the name of the Lord Jesus brings them great tribulation on earth, yet great reward in heaven.
First, a little history …
Located about thirty-five miles north of Ephesus, Smyrna (modern day Izmir) was a cultural center referred to as the “Ornament of Asia.” Very loyal to Rome for at least three centuries, this city built temples devoted to various Roman gods and was the worship center for the Emperor Tiberias. Over time, emperor worship became compulsory for every Roman citizen on penalty of death, and those who refused to obey were burned alive.
Such was the fate of Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, a student under John who would not deny his faith in Jesus. It is clear that this church suffered great tribulation, material poverty, and demonic attacks.
And to the angel of the church of Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.
Revelation 2:8-11 NASB
Endurance in suffering…
Jesus describes Himself to this church as one who was raised from the dead, which parallels His message to Smyrna, a church that also faces persecution, tribulation, and death for their beliefs. Jesus has no rebuke for this church, but instead encourages them in their suffering. The slanderous attacks they endure are led by followers of Satan whose evil intent is to destroy these believers.
Jesus readies them for their upcoming persecution, telling specifically how long it would last. He begins with encouragement and reassurance that they need not fear what they were about to suffer at Satan’s hands.
How about today? No one wishes to be persecuted, but Scripture tells us that when we suffer as Christ’s followers, we shouldn’t be surprised. John 15:18-21 tells us that If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well; 2 Timothy 3:12 says, Indeed, all who want to live in a godly way in Christ Jesus will be persecuted: also see Hebrews 2:10, 1 Peter 2:20 and 1 Peter 1:6-7.
But God also commends this Smyrna church for its spiritual riches laid up in heaven. In contrast to the city’s great wealth, it is materially impoverished, probably due to unfair economic sanctions levied against it. Although their enemies are hell-bent on destroying this church financially, their faithfulness and obedience build up great wealth for them in heaven. Think how powerful their preaching must have been for Satan to attack them so ruthlessly!
Let’s also be encouraged to store up treasure in heaven by our deeds on earth, which glorify God and are acceptable to Him.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.
Matthew 6:20 NASB
This letter ends on a positive note.
What are the benefits of enduring persecution, even if it leads to death? God spells it out: receiving the crown of life.
In Smyrna’s day, one of its money symbols was a crown engraved on their coins. In contrast, Jesus promises to give the crown of life to those who are faithful unto death. What a glorious benefit, along with eternal life in God’s kingdom.
No matter how bad it appeared, the Smyrna congregation could rest in the safety of Jesus’s arms and the comfort of knowing that He is always in control. They didn’t fear prison or death.
And so can we.We don’t have to fear.
The Word tells us that Jesus wins the war against Satan at Armageddon, and then His kingdom will be established, where we will rule and reign with Christ forever. The Anti-Christ’s seven-year reign of terror is short, temporary, and controlled by God. We need NOT FEAR what is coming on the earth.
What does the modern-day church teach about suffering?
It’s common to hear the truth of the gospel twisted to promise that Christians are protected from suffering. The false gospel accuses people of a lack of faith and places the blame back on the believer, thus producing guilt and shame. Remember, Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1 NASB). We are all given the gift of faith as a mustard seed which grows in our spirit during our walk with the Lord (See Luke 17:6).
Our walk of faith will have mountaintops and valleys, but God is always with us and will never forsake us. Suffering teaches us patience while building maturity and godly character.
The prosperity gospel falsely teaches that all Christians are supposed to be wealthy on the earth, and if you’re poor, you’re not blessed. Was Jesus born into a wealthy, politically affluent family? Did he live a luxurious lifestyle? Not at all, but all His physical needs were met.
Even Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness after His forty-day fast.
Again, the devil took Him along to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go away, Satan! For it is written: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.”‘ Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to serve Him.
Matthew 4:8-11 NASB
Are we prepared to head into these troubling days?
Do we have the personal assurance that we will be overcomers through Jesus’s death and resurrection? We find our solace in our Savior. There is only one safe place in these days of tribulation and attacks from the enemy. It’s not a physical place, but a spiritual one found in Jesus alone. Here’s what the scripture says:
The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe.
Proverbs 18:10 NASB
He who dwells in the shelter of the most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
Psalms 91:1 NASB
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
Ephesians 6:12-13 NASB
Dear Father, make us ready to face these days of persecution with the courage and strength of the Lord. We rest in the knowledge that You are in control, and we are safe in Your arms of loving protection. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.
Come along with me to our next stop. I’ll meet you in Pergamum.
“‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have placed before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding close to Him;'”
Deuteronomy 30:19-20a NASB
When I was an English teacher, I would grade essays by making comments throughout each paper. I would begin with the positives, summarizing what my students did well—the glowing commendations. Constructive criticism followed, pointing out any weaknesses and making suggestions for improvement.
We all learn from this technique. Even Jesus used the same pattern when he spoke to the seven churches through the Apostle John. Jesus began with what they did right.
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.’
Revelation 2:1-3 NASB
What were the commendations of the church at Ephesus?
Apparently, the Ephesians were very diligent in their quest for truth. God’s Word provides standards for discerning truth from error, and the Ephesians had been well-prepared to fight against false teaching. When Paul was at Ephesus, he trained them in the truth of the gospel, warning that false teachers would surface later. Even Timothy prevailed there with hard work, patience, and perseverance, proving that he and the church at Ephesus had taken this warning to heart.
As we apply this truth to our present-day churches, let’s consider: does yours teach you to discern truth from error like the church at Ephesus?
Can you identify false teachers?
Thanks to the internet, we have access to myriads of people teaching the Word. But, are all teaching truth? Our Plumbline is knowing the Word of God for ourselves.
Some teachers are blatantly false and should be easy to discern, while the more dangerous ones preach truth with slivers of lies woven in. It is imperative to understand what we hear and be able to line it up against the whole truth of God’s Word.
If one little part is a lie, is the entire message false?
The answer is best illustrated by a story about homemade brownies.
When the delicious-smelling brownies were fresh and hot from the oven, the kids gathered around, begging for a piece. But they had to cool, so while they waited, they asked their dad to tell them how he had made them.
He rattled off a list of the finest ingredients. ” Organic flour, coconut sugar, a pinch of sea salt, and whole, organic milk.”
“Yummy!” The kids drooled. “What else?”
“Oh, lots of dark chocolate.” He smiled. “And just a little smidge of dog poop.”
The kids’ faces turned green. “What? Dog poop?” They gagged at the thoughtand refused to taste a crumb.
This story makes an excellent point related to false teaching. Just a smidge of something false contaminates the whole gospel.
How can we know if we are being tricked? If we don’t know the Word, these charlatans can trip us up every time. In fact, they count on the flock’s lack of knowledge in order to gently lead us astray.
We must know the WHOLE gospel of truth.
God warns, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6 NASB).
Remember years ago when false teachers and prophets began to surface in the news? How about Jim Jones and his brainwashed followers who drank the lethal Kool-Aid.
Ever hear of the New Apostolic Reformation heresy based in Redding, California?
Some congregations may begin on the right path of truth, but somewhere down the road, they get sidetracked by worldly lusts and desires.
Ever hear of Ashley Madison?
Or perhaps it’s the lure of wealth and greed for bigger salaries to live like royalty in palatial estates and fly around the world in private jets.
Ever hear of the prosperity gospel?
Sin coming through the leadership can affect and mislead the entire congregation.
The Lord will help and deliver us from false teaching if we stay close to Him, planted in His Word. The Holy Spirit is our comforter and teacher. He lives inside our spirit and will never leave or forsake us. Also, He leads us into all truth, guiding and teaching us as we study God’s Word.
The Holy Spirit protects us, His sheep, from wolves hiding under sheep’s clothing. He will reveal the truth to us, and we don’t have to fear becoming a wolf’s dinner.
Now let’s now examine the shortcomings of Ephesus.
‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore, remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.‘
Revelation 2:4-5 NASB
How could this church be so savvy at uncovering false teachers yet accused of this? Those who hate evil and false teaching have a strong gift of discernment from the Holy Spirit; yet, leaving Jesus, our first love, is different. It’s about the condition of the heart.
Remember when you first got saved?
Most of us fell in love with Jesus and couldn’t stop talking about Him or witnessing to the lost. We devoured His Word and prayed every day. We were deeply in love with the Lord and His Holy Spirit. Just like a romantic relationship that culminates in marriage, we spiritually felt and acted the same way.
What happens? Just as in a marriage, the relationship settles and cools as that fire of passionate love begins to temper, dying down into glowing embers. We must poke them, blowing gently, feeding them with kindling until it smokes and the fire again catches. The more we feed it, the hotter and higher the flames will grow.
How do we stoke the fires of our love for the Lord?
Revelation 2:4 instructs us to “repent, and do the deeds you did at first.” Then the fire will catch and burn again.
For example, our cell phones and other electronic devices must be charged every day or else they will go dead. What about our relationship with Jesus? We also have to charge up our spirits on a daily basis. We download His power through reading the Word. Then we send back the current to God through prayer, and the Holy Spirit witnesses through our spirit that we’re one with Him.
OR ELSE …
As parents, haven’t we used OR ELSE phraseology to back up our demands? We let our children know exactly what consequence their rebellion holds.
God does likewise.
In Ephesus, Jesus added a solemn consequence if the church refused to listen and heed His warning.
His OR ELSE is spelled out in Revelation 2:5: “I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.” Jesus meant business. Ephesus would lose its place as a church unless it listened and obeyed.
It is interesting that Jesus concludes this warning to Ephesus by saying, “’Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate'” (Revelation 2:6 NASB).
Who were the despised Nicolaitans?
We know little about them, but it is supposed that they may have been a sect that introduced false teaching in regard to a believer’s freedom in Christ. Perhaps they espoused that once you’re saved at the cross, that frees you to live like everyone else who was immersed in a world of idolatry and sexual sin. Whatever the teaching, it was a stench in the nostrils of God, and He hated it with a passion.
The cross frees us from sin to live a sanctified, holy life in Christ.
As with each letter to the churches, the conclusion ends on a high note with a wonderful promise.
‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’
Revelation 2:7 NASB
Do we have a spiritual ear to hear what the Holy Spirit is speaking to us today? If we hate evil, persevere for truth without growing weary, discern false teachers, and always keep our love for the Lord first in our hearts, there is a reward for that victory.
Is it worth it to be obedient to God’s Word? You bet it is. What a wonderful reward awaits us in God’s kingdom!
Dear Father, may we serve You with obedience and a pure heart. May we love You with all our heart, soul, mind, and body, and may our love for You never grow cold. Keep us in Your Word so that we cannot be deceived by the growing apostate church in these end times. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.