In Lesson #3 of January 12-19, some editorial changes were made. In particular, the person who implemented the late modifications was eager to specify the exact years marking the beginning and ending of different periods in the historical application of the churches. Also, some modifications were made in the lesson on Friday that diminished the application of the promises given to the overcomers.
God’s People in Cities
Read for This Week’s Study: Rev. 1:10-11; 2:8-3:22; 22:16-17.
Memory Verse: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3: 22, NKJV).
From the barren island of Patmos, Jesus sent via John a letter with seven messages to His people as a token of His care for them (Rev. 1:11). While those messages originally concerned the churches in Asia of John’s day, they were also written for all Christians throughout history, including our day.
A side-by-side comparison of these messages shows that they follow the same six-fold structure. Each message opens with an address in which Jesus addresses each church by name. The second part begins with the phrase: “These things says He who . . . ” in which Jesus introduces Himself to each church by mentioning some of the descriptive features found in chapter 1. Those descriptions of Jesus were suited to the specific situations and needs of those churches. In such a way, Jesus pointed to His ability to meet their different needs and situations. This brings to mind the four Gospels. The Gospels present four distinctive portraits of Jesus to four different groups of people.
Next, Jesus gives an appraisal of the church and then counsels the church how to get out of their situation. Finally, each message concludes with an appeal to hear the Spirit and with promises to the overcomers.
As we saw in last week’s lesson in our analysis of the message to the first church in Ephesus, and as we will see this week in our study of the remaining six messages. We invite you to list the features of Jesus mentioned in each of the seven messages. Then, locate those features in the description of Jesus in chapter 1. As we briefly analyze the message, we will try to see how the features of Jesus in each message suited the situation of the Christians of John’s day and what they mean for God’s people today.
*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, October 20.
Sunday January 13
Christ’s Messages to Smyrna and Philadelphia
Jesus’ second and sixth messages originally addressed the churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia. These two churches did not receive rebukes from Jesus.
Smyrna was a beautiful and wealthy city, next to Ephesus in its importance. It was reputed for its science and medicine industries as well as for its famous stadium, library, and the largest public theater in the province. The city was a center of emperor worship, which was compulsory for all citizens. The immediate consequences for refusing to comply with this mandate were the loss of legal status, persecution, and martyrdom.
Read Revelation 2:8-11. How does the way Jesus presents Himself to this church relate to the church’s situation? What was the situation of the church? What warning does Jesus give to the church of what was coming in the future? What promise did He give to this church?
The message to the church in Smyrna also speaks to the church in the postapostolic era, when Christians were viciously persecuted by the Roman Empire. The “ten days” mentioned in 2:10 pointed to the severe imperial persecution that started in A.D. 303 by Diocletian and continued until A.D. 313, when Constantine the Great issued the Edict of Milan granting Christians religious freedom.
Can you think of Christians around the world who are suffering persecution? Would you keep them in your prayers?
The next church addressed by Jesus was located in Philadelphia (“brotherly love”). It was founded in the second century B.C. by the king of Pergamum, Attalus II Philadelphus, in honor of his brother. The city stood on the imperial trade road connecting all parts east with all parts west of the province. It was founded as a center for promoting the Greek language and culture in the area of Lydia and Phrygia.
Read Revelation 3:7-13. How does the way Jesus presents Himself in this message relate to the situation of this church? What does Jesus’ statement, “you have a little strength” say about the condition of the church? What promises does Jesus give to this church?
The message to this church aptly applies to the great revival of Protestantism during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The church of this period was driven by a genuine desire to carry the gospel to the whole world. As a result, there was a great explosion of the gospel that had not been experienced since the time of Pentecost.
Do you feel spiritually weak in your relationship with Christ? In what way does Christ’s promise to the Philadelphians apply to you?
Monday January 14
Christ’s Message to Pergamum
Pergamos or Pergamum was the center of intellectual life in the Hellenistic world. It was famous for it’s library of nearly 200,000 volumes. It was also famous for its magnificent temples, in particular, the grand altar of Zeus that dominated the city. The city was the center of the cult of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, who was called “the Savior” and represented by a serpent. People from all over the world were coming to the shrine of Asclepius to be healed. Pergamum had a leading role in promoting the cult of emperor worship, which was, as in Smyrna, compulsory. In such a way, the Christians in Pergamum lived in the city “where Satan dwelt” and where his throne was located.
Read Revelation 2:12-15. How does Jesus present Himself to this church? What was His appraisal of the spiritual condition of this church?
Surrounded by paganism and its grand temples, the Christians in Pergamum faced temptations from both outside and inside the church. While most of them remained unwavering in their faithfulness to Christ, there were some in the church who advocated compromise with paganism in order to avoid persecution and martyrdom. They were called Nicolaitans, most likely the followers of Nicolas, one of the seven deacons in the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:5) who later turned to heresy. They are linked to another heretical group named after Balaam who seduced the Israelites on the way to the Promised Land (Num. 31:16). These two groups advocated conformity to pagan practices in order to avoid the discomfort of persecution. While the church in Ephesus did not tolerate such teaching (Rev. 2:6), these heretical teachers were able to seduce some in the church in Pergamum.
Read Revelation 2:16-17. What does Jesus urge the church to do in order to help them improve their spiritual condition? What promises does Jesus give to this church?
The message to the church in Pergamum also aptly describes the situation of the church in the period after A.D. 313. As Christianity won its struggle with paganism, many in the church went the way of compromise. Although many remained unwavering and faithful to the gospel, the fourth and fifth centuries witnessed spiritual decline and apostasy, during which the church wrestled with the temptation of compromise.
How does the message to the church in Pergamum apply to the situation of the church today? Do you see any parallels between the spiritual condition of church that you are a part of and the church in Pergamum?
Tuesday January 15
Christ’s Message to Thyatira
In comparison with other cities, Thyatira had no political or cultural significance. It was rather known for trade. The population consisted mainly of laborers and tradesmen who belonged to different trade guilds. Lydia, the purple fabrics dealer in Philippi, was originally from Thyatira (Acts 16:14). In order to run a business or have a job, people had to belong to trade guilds. Members had to attend the guild festivals and participate in temple rituals that included eating meat sacrificed to the patron god and immoral activities. Those who did not comply experienced exclusion from the guilds and economic sanctions. The Christians in this city had to choose between compromise and remaining faithful to the gospel.
Read Revelation 2:18-23. How does Jesus present Himself to this church? What were the qualities that Jesus commended the church for? What was the problem that troubled the church?
Like the church in Pergamum, the threat to the church in Thyatira was compromise with the pagan environment. They tolerated in their midst a female member who claimed to be a prophetess. Jesus names her Jezebel, after the wife of King Ahab, who led Israel into apostasy (1 Kings 16:31-33). Jezebel in Thyatira taught that it was okay for Christians to compromise with pagan practices in order to avoid the hardships. Jesus portrays her as a spiritual harlot. Those who condoned her teaching were committing spiritual adultery with her.
Read Revelation 2:24-29. While many in the church turned to apostasy, there was a remnant of those who remained faithful. What do you think are “the deep things of Satan” that this remnant did not come to know? Deliberate on the counsel and promise that Jesus gave to this faithful remnant?
The situation in the church in Thyatira applies to the condition of the church at large during the period of the Middle Ages. The danger to the church did not come from outside but from those who claimed to receive their authority from God. During that period, tradition replaced the Bible, a human priesthood and sacred relics replaced Christ’s priesthood, and works were regarded as the means of salvation. Those who did not condone the corrupting influences of the institutional church experienced persecution and even death.
How does Jesus’ message to the church of Thyatira apply to the congregation you are a part of? What kind of compromise are you tempted with in your life? Do you feel that you are a part of the remnant that has chosen to remain faithful and obedient to God?
Wednesday January 16
Christ’s Message to Sardis
The city of Sardis had a glorious history. A few centuries prior to Revelation, it was one of the greatest cities in the ancient world and the capital of Lydia, ruled by the wealthy Croesus. By the Roman period, the city had lost its prestige. While still enjoying prosperity and wealth, its glory was rooted in its past history rather than in present reality. The city was built on top of a steep hill and, as such, inaccessible. The citizens felt so secure that the city walls were carelessly guarded. The city was twice captured by surprise by soldiers who climbed the cliff and found that the overconfident citizens failed to post a guard on the walls.
Read Revelation 3:1. How does Jesus present Himself to this church and how does it relate to the church’s needs? What was His appraisal of the spiritual condition of this church?
While Jesus recognizes a few Christians in the church in Sardis as faithful, most of them only have a name, but are in reality spiritually dead. The church is not charged for any open sin or apostasy like those in Pergamum and Thyatira but with spiritual lethargy.
Read Revelation 3:2-6 along with Matthew 24:42-44; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-8. What three things does Jesus urge the Christians in Sardis to do as a cure for their spiritual condition? What did the church have to remember? How did Jesus’ warning to “watch” correspond to the historical background of the city? What promise did Jesus give to those who remained faithful?
The message to the church in Sardis aptly applies also to the spiritual situation of the Protestants in the post-Reformation period, as the church gradually degenerated into lifeless formalism and a state of spiritual complacency. Under the impact of the rising tide of rationalism and secularism, focus on the saving grace of the gospel and commitment to Christ waned, giving place to rationalism and theological arguments. The church at this period, although appearing to be alive, was in reality spiritually dead.
The letter also applies to every generation of Christians. There are Christians who always talk in glorious terms of their past faithfulness to Christ. Unfortunately, the same do not have much to share about their present experience with Christ. Their religion is nominal, lacking the true religion of the heart and genuine commitment to the gospel.
Do you see symptoms of complacency in your own life? How can Jesus’ counsel to the church in Sardis help you personally in curing such a spiritual situation?
Thursday January 17
Christians in Laodicea
The last church addressed by Jesus was located in Laodicea, a wealthy commercial, industrial, and financial city situated on the major trade road. It was famous for a woolen manufacturing industry, its banks, which held a vast quantity of gold, and a medical school producing eye salve. The prosperity filled the citizens with self-sufficiency. Around AD 60, when an earthquake destroyed the city, the citizens declined an offer of assistance from Rome, claiming to have all they needed. Since the city lacked water, it was supplied through an aqueduct from hot springs from Hierapolis, which, as it reached Laodicea, became lukewarm.
Read Revelation 3:14-17 along with Hosea 12:8. Draw parallels between the historical characteristics of the city and Christ’s appraisal of this church. How did the self-sufficient spirit of the city pervade the Laodicean Christians?
Jesus did not rebuke the Christians in Laodicea for some serious sin, heresy, or apostasy. Their problem was rather complacency leading to spiritual lethargy. Like the water that reached the city, they were neither refreshingly cold nor hot, but lukewarm. They claimed to be rich and in need of nothing; yet, they were extremely poor, naked, and blind to their spiritual condition.
The church in Laodicea aptly represents the spiritual condition of the church at the close of this earth’s history. This is shown by strong verbal links with Revelation 16:15 in connection with the preparation for the final crisis, which shows that the church in Laodicea was set to be the model for the end-time church. The last church will exist in times of great political, religious, and secular upheavals and will face challenges like no previous generation. Yet, this church is self-sufficient and struggling with its authenticity. Christ’s warning to her has a far-reaching implication for all who are a part of that church.
Jesus assures the Laodiceans that He loves them and he will not give up on them (3:19). He concludes His appeal by picturing Himself as the lover in Song of Songs 5:2-6 standing at the door and knocking and pleading to be let in (3:20). Everyone who opens the door and lets Him in is promised an intimate dinner with Him. This call is not to be missed.
Read Revelation 3:18-22. What counsel did Jesus give to the Laodiceans as a cure for their self-sufficiency? What do gold, white garment, and eye salve symbolize (see 1 Pet. 1:7; Isa. 61:10; Eph. 1:17-18)? Jesus offered the Laodiceans “to buy” from Him these things. What did they have to trade in exchange for these riches?
Friday October 18
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “The Revelation,” pp. 578-592, in The Acts of the Apostles.
The seven messages to the churches show spiritual decline in the seven churches. The church in Ephesus was still faithful, although it had lost its first love. The churches in Smyrna and Pergamum were faithful, only a small number of wayward members were unfaithful. Thyatira was a divided church with two phases of her faithfulness to Christ. The churches in Sardis and Philadelphia were in a very serious condition. The majority in these churches was out of harmony with the gospel, while the remnant represented the faithful few. The church in Laodicea was in such a condition that there was nothing good to be said about that church.
In concluding each message, Jesus makes promises to those who accept his counsel. One might observe, however, that along with the evident spiritual decline in the churches, there is a proportionate increase in promises given. Starting with Ephesus, which receives only one promise, as each church follows the downward spiritual trend, each receives more promises than the previous one. Finally, the church in Laodicea, while given only one promise, receives the greatest: to share Jesus’ throne (3:20). This promise encompasses all the other promises given to the churches.
How does this increase in promises along with the spiritual decline in the churches reflect the statement that when sin increases, grace abounds even more (Rom. 5:20)? Think of that in light of the statement that, “the church, enfeebled and defective though it be, is the only object on earth on which Christ bestows his supreme regard. He is constantly watching it with solicitude, and is strengthening it by his Holy Spirit.”—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, 2:396.
Often Christians say that it is hard to be a Christian in industrial, commercial, and metropolitan cities. What can be learned from the fact that in the prosperous cities in Asia there were Christians who remained loyal to the gospel and unswerving in the midst of all the pressure of the pagan environment?
Think of those Christians in Asia in light of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:15-19? How does the concept of being in the world but not of the world apply to Christians today, in particular those living in metropolitan cities?