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Seven Churches Part I - Scott Richardson


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July 31, 2011


Seven Churches — Part 1

Ephesus—Revelation 2:1-7

Ephesus was located in Asia, about three miles form the western coast. It was situated near the mouth of the Cayster River with a large, artificial harbor that was accessible to the largest of ships. This position is approximately opposite the island of Samos.

Economics, politics, and religion greatly overlapped in Ephesus. The wealth and commercial success was due not only to the ease of land and sea access, but in no small part to the Temple of Artemis (Diana). Ephesus became a great manufactory of images and portable shrines (see Acts 19:23-27).

The first century in Ephesus saw the worship of many Greco-Roman gods and goddesses as well as those from other cultures. There were temples and monuments for the worship of the Nymphs and other lesser “deities,” like Hercules, as well. As was customary in most important cities of the Roman Empire, the emperors themselves were quite fond of building temples; buildings by Hadrian and Domitian are prime examples. Near the agora (marketplace), was the Temple of Serapis, built by Egyptians who had close ties with Ephesus through the great Egyptian city of Alexandria. There was also a significant Jewish presence in Ephesus at this time.

We want to consider the letter to the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:17). All seven letters follow the same outline. Only the things said differ. The outline has to do with Christ’s description of Himself, His commendation of the good and condemnation of the bad, His counsel and/or warning or exhortation, and last of all His invitation to hear.

Consider, first of all, the history of this church. We know of the beginning of the church (Acts 19:1-12). Paul preached much at Ephesus (Acts 20:17-31). The epistles to Timothy related to the church at Ephesus (1Timothy 1:3). The epistle of Ephesians, that great treatise on Christ and His church, was sent to the church at Ephesus. Now, in the last of the New Testament, another epistle is sent to this church.

Consider Christ’s description of Himself (Revelation 2:1). As in each epistle, Christ here describes Himself in such a way as to show He is qualified to say what needs to be said. He holds in His hand the seven stars or the messengers to the church (Revelation 2:1). Thus He was the source of their guidance, hope, and destiny. Truly, He has the whole world in His hand. He also walked in the midst of the churches (Revelation 2:1). He knew them! He knew what was right and what was wrong with them. Furthermore, He was in their midst—near. This enabled Him to know all (John 2:24,25; Hebrews 4:13).

Consider the good which Jesus knew about them (Revelation 2:2,3). He knew their labor (Revelation 2:2). They had a good example (Acts 20:20; 19:10). We must work (Philippians 2:12; James 2:14-26). He knew their patience or steadfastness (Revelation 2:2). This is explained in verse 3. That is expected (1Corinthians 15:58; Acts 2:42). Christians must excel in this (James 1:2-6). He also knew their attitude toward sin (Revelation 2:2). No doubt, as they had the same teacher, they had been taught as the Corinthians had (1Corinthians 4:6,7). He knew their attitude toward the doctrine of Christ (Revelation 2:2,6). Every church must stand foursquare for the truth (John 8:32; James 2:10; Galatians 1:6-9; 2Timothy 3:16,17).

Consider the bad which Jesus knew about this church (Revelation 2:4). Notice, also, how love is equated with works here (Revelation 2:5). The evidence or proof of love is in obedience—works (1John 2:4,5). What a shame! The church had so much to their credit—all of this good and yet spoiled by one thing. We leave them in a condemned condition.

Finally, consider the requirements (Revelation 2:5,7) and consider the 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).

Smyrna—Revelation 2:8-11

Smyrna was a large city on the western edge of Asia Minor. It sat at the head of a gulf of the Aegean Sea that reached far inland and the Hermus river connected it with the inland areas. This places the city about 35-40 miles north of Ephesus. The modern city of Izmir, Turkey today has enveloped old Smyrna.

In Roman times, Smyrna was considered the most brilliant city of Asia Minor, successfully rivaling Pergamum and Ephesus. Its streets were wide and paved. Its system of coinage was well established. It was celebrated for its schools of science and medicine, and for its handsome buildings. Among them was the Homerium, for Smyrna was one of several places which claimed to be the birthplace of the poet. On the slope of Mt. Pagus was a theater which seated 20,000 spectators.

Many gods were worshiped here, but the tutelary deity of Smyrna was the mother goddess, Cybele, the patroness and guardian of the city. She is often pictured sitting with her feet on the sea, her head rising to the heavens, and crowned with a circlet of beautiful buildings; this is a picture of the city itself. Essentially the worship of Cybele was the worship of the city itself. Athena was also highly regarded here. The temple of Athena is one of the oldest structures uncovered, dating back to the 7th century BC.

Unlike the church at Ephesus, we know absolutely nothing about the history of the church at Smyrna. However, we do know that much preaching had been done in the area of Smyrna (Acts 19:10). This church had also been taught well, as is evident from this epistle.

Consider Christ’s description of Himself. Again we see that Christ depicts Himself as being especially qualified to discuss that which was needed by this church. Jesus had suffered too (Revelation 2:8). He also had been victorious (Revelation 2:8). Christ also insisted that He was first and last. When others have lived and gone, Jesus is. Thus, this suffering church should have taken courage, as the author had been killed and had become the first-fruits of them that slept (1Corinthians 15:20).

Consider the good things Jesus knew about this church. He knew! (Revelation 2:9). He knows all things (Hebrews 4:13). Jesus knew their tribulations (Revelation 2:9). He knew they were having a hard fight, but that they were fighting. Jesus, also, knew their poverty (Revelation 2:9). However, this was not so bad, for they were really rich (Revelation 2:9). The churches in Macedonia were poor, too, still they were rich. (2Corinthians 8:1-3) So, we should learn not to be discouraged if we are a poor church, not to be elated if we are a rich church. Being poor may make us realize our dependence upon God. Being rich may make us think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think There is no spiritual value in being poor, and there is no spiritual value in being rich. Jesus also knew the blasphemy which they had to endure (Revelation 2:9). still, they were enduring. Consider the value of an application of this to ourselves.

Consider the bad which Jesus knew about this church. Nothing bad is said about this church. They were faithful (Revelation 2:10). But they needed encouragement because yet more was to come (Revelation 2:10). Here we meet the figurative again—10 days of tribulation. This time the figure is not explained as it had been with the stars and the candlesticks. Tribulation, especially if it continues, may make people to be discouraged, but it can do the opposite (Matthew 5:11,12; 2Timothy 3:12; James 1:2-6). Even so, tribulation may bring tears (1Peter 1:6,7).

Now consider the requirements which Jesus gave (Revelation 2:10). We have here one of the classics of the New Testament: “Be thou faithful unto death …”

Consider the promises (Revelation 2:10). “I will give thee a crown of life.” These, if faithful, would not be hurt by the second death (Revelation 2:11).

—S. Scott Richardson Sr.

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