THE REVELATION OF CHRIST to the apostle John on the Island of Patmos contains much symbolism. It presents valuable explanations and instructions regarding the Doctrine of “Last Things,” or Eschatology—the Christian doctrine concerning what will happen in the final days. When will Christ return? What will happen when He comes back. What has to occur before He returns?
“Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
Jesus warned, “Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:442-44). His appearing will not be a mere spiritual indwelling, but will be a personal physical return. Wayne Grudem writes, “John’s response at the end of [The] Revelation should characterize Christians’ hearts in all ages: ‘Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!’ (Rev. 22:20). The degree to which we long for the return of Jesus Christ is a strong indication of our spiritual condition and our relationship with Him.
The Seven Churches, Continued
Smyrna, modern-day Izmir, Turkey, was the second-busiest port city of its time. It is likely that the church at Smyrna was established by Paul (Acts 19:10). Polycarp served as the bishop there, fulfilling a transitional role between the apostolic and patristic ages. His teachings covered the fundamentals of Christian theology, and He is considered by many scholars to be an early Christian apologist. Polycarp was a disciple of John, and it is John that ordained him as a minister. Polycarp was martyred circa AD 155. In The Revelation, John notes that the church at Smyrna was struggling against a Jewish population hostile to Christianity, and a non-Jewish population loyal to Rome. The name “smyrna” refers to the city’s chief industry, the production of myrrh.
“I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that 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 throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:8-10).
Jesus refers to “the synagogue of Satan” in the midst of the city, which might be a group of Gentiles who call themselves the chosen of God yet worship the Roman emperor. Some biblical scholars suggest it represents a group of Jews who followed tradition and the Mosaic Law, yet did not truly know God. It is possible some unbelieving Jews joined with the pagans in murdering Polycarp.
There was a great deal of pressure on the believers at Smyrna. Jesus acknowledges their poverty, yet notes they were rich in spirit. He commends them for remaining faithful in persecution, even to the point of death. Truly, Christ reminds all believers that the crown of life is awarded to those martyred as a result of their Christian beliefs. James mentions this as well: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). Christ knows our circumstances, understands the pressures and temptations of being in the flesh, and sees our works.
There is a note on my fridge that reads, “God Hears Every Casual Word & Sees Every Habitual Choice!”
The third of these letters is to the believers in Pergamum, Bergama today, a beautiful, art-filled city in the province of Asia Minor located along two tributaries of the Caicos River. Pergamum was considered the center of worship for Dionysus, Zeus, and other gods. A large altar built on a cliff overlooked the entire area, serving as the throne of Zeus. Paganism was tolerated (if not assimilated) and the negative impact was very troublesome.
“I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. ‘” (Rev. 2:12-14).
Pergamum was a major center for worshiping Zeus and the Roman emperors. The Empire demanded worship of the emperor as a sign of allegiance to the state. This caused a strong compromise within the church. We see this in Western civilization today: attempting to fit the Bible into culture; not allowing Christ to be reflected in our interactions with non-believers; the teaching of some Christian church leaders that all religions are true and ultimately lead to heaven; failing to stand firm against false teachings; accepting or promoting a watered-down gospel. Just as in the church at Pergamum, believers today have become comfortable with the ways of the world and have begun to live as the world lives rather than living in the world. At the bottom of this slippery slope is nominal Christianity: living as a nominal (“in name only”) Christian.
In The Revelation: Part Three we will examine the churches at Thyartira and Sardis. We will rap up this series with the churches at Philadelphia and Laodicea.
Unless otherwise specified, all Scripture references are taken from the ESV (English Standard Version).