JESUS CHRIST CONTINUED The Revelation to John with letters to the churches at Thyatira and Sardis. As with the churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum, the letters to Thyatira and Sardis contain warnings that remain relevant today. Churches in John’s time were on the decline. The Roman Empire continued to persecute Christians, leaving many believers to question their commitment to the gospel. Of the seven churches, six struggled and only one held fast.
“I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols… but to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden” (Rev. 2:19-20, 24).
Alexander the Great established Thyatira as a Roman military outpost—a sort of forward operating base. It was a wealthy town on the Lycus River in the Roman province of Asia (in modern-day Turkey). Major industries included, pottery and silversmiths. It was an important center for minting god and silver coins. Being a “closed guild” city, only merchants belonging to their respective guild could sell their wares in the agora. Local government and culture discriminated against Christians, often pulling their guild membership. There were many believers who remained faithful, choosing Jesus over career regardless of the financial hardship of not selling their merchandise.
Sexual immorality had taken hold in the city and there was a constant presence of individuals who worshiped pagan gods. Jezebel (a woman referenced in 1 Kings 21:25-26) influenced the church at Thyatira regarding indulgence in sexual sin. As we know from Scripture, Jesus strongly spoke out against those who would tempt others to sin. He said, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin. For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation (Gr., “stumbling block”) comes,” (Matthew 18:7). As a reward the church made for the gospel, Jesus blessed its members, giving them authority over all nations, victory over all enemies and the presence of the morning star (Gr. astera ton prōinon) which is believed to represent Jesus Himself. He recognized the faithfulness and love still present in the church.
Jesus said, “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown,” (Revelation 3:11).
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you'” (Rev. 3:2-3).
Sardis was part of the ancient Persian kingdom when it was liberated by Alexander in 340 BC. Based on archaeological findings, much of the population there was quite wealthy. Judaism was “tolerated,” but their God could not be considered greater than any Roman god. There was hostility toward Christians because of their refusal to worship Roman gods or pledge allegiance to the emperor. This forced Christian believers to set up “house” churches. Further, the church was in a deep spiritual coma—as of they were dead in their faith. Jesus said to them, Wake up! Strengthen that which has died! Matthew Henry said, “Hypocrisy, and lamentable decay in religion, are sins charged upon Sardis.”(1)
The invaluable lesson from this letter to the church at Sardis is simple. Here is how a church dies: Its deeds are incomplete, often lacking sincerity. Wealth begins to distract believers from reliance on God alone; loyalties shift to an idol-like worship of wealth and “things.” Rather than the church having an impact on culture, culture begins to impact the church. I relate to this issue, and I’m working diligently to overcome it. Regarding believers at Sardis, they were preoccupied with death; pagan rites had crept into the church, similar to the days of Constantine’s dubious conversion to Christianity (cir. AD 312).
Complacency among the believers at Sardis began to have a negative impact on their relationship to Christ and the cross. However, the situation was not hopeless. Their predicament was salvageable, but immediate steps needed to be taken before it was too late. It is canny how this problem exists in Christian churches today. As we will see in future posts on The Revelation, there is much to come that believers must be prepared to withstand, and to continue sharing the good news of the gospel until the church is snatched up to be with Christ.
In part four of this series we will discuss John’s letters to the churches at Philadelphia and Laodicea. Part Five will cover the heavenly throne, the scrolls and the Lamb of God. From there, we will explore the seven seals. Future installments with address the remnant of 144,000 that will be saved, the seven trumpets, the woman and the dragon, the beasts, the seven angels, the seven plagues, and more. I will be introducing relevant portions of the books of Daniel and Ezekiel. I hope you will remain throughout this fascinating and critical study of eschatological matters.
(1) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997), 1267.
Unless otherwise specified, all Scripture references are taken from the ESV (English Standard Version).