Forum Class for February 6, 2005
Introductory notes by J. Vernon McGee: This brings us to the section on the "church," which is also called the body of Christ. He loved the church and gave Himself for it. The church is the body of believers which the Father has given Him and for whom He prayed in John 17.
After chapter 3 in the Book of Revelation, the church is conspicuous by its absence. Up to chapter 4, the church is mentioned nineteen times. From chapter 4 through chapter 20 (the Great White Throne Judgment), the church is not mentioned one time. The normal reaction is to inquire as to the destination and location of the church during this period. It certainly is not in the world. It has been removed from the earth.
These seven letters have a threefold interpretation and application:
1. Contemporary--they had a direct message to the local churches of John's day. I intend to take you to the location of these seven churches in these next two chapters. I have visited the sites of these churches several times, and I want to visit them again and again, because it is such a thrill and because it brings me closer to the Bible. You can get closer to the Bible by visiting these seven churches than you can by walking through the land of Israel. The ruins have an obvious message. John was writing to churches that he knew all about. In The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia Sir William Ramsay said, "The man who wrote these seven letters to the seven churches had been there, and he knew the local conditions."
2. Composite--each one is a composite picture of the church. There is something that is applicable to all churches in all ages in each message to each individual church. In other words, when you read the message to the church in Pergamum, there is a message for your church and a message for you personally.
3. Chronological--the panoramic history of the church is given in these seven letters, from Pentecost to the Parousia, from the Upper Room to the upper air. There are seven distinct periods of church history. Ephesus represents the apostolic church; Laodicea represents the apostate church. This prophetic picture is largely fulfilled and is now church history, which makes these chapters extremely remarkable.
Now let me call your attention to the well-defined and definite format which the Lord Jesus used in each one of the letters to the seven churches:
1. There was some feature of the glorified Christ (whom John saw in chapter 1) that was emphasized in addressing each church. A particular thing was emphasized for a particular purpose, of course.
2. The letters are addressed to the angel of each church
3. He begins by stating to each, "I know your works," although there has been some question about that in regard to a couple of the letters.
4. He first gives a word of commendation, and then He gives a word of condemnation. That is His method, but the exceptions should be noted. There is no word of condemnation to Smyrna or Philadelphia. Smyrna was the martyr church, and He is not about to condemn that church. Philadelphia was the missionary church that was getting out His Word, and He didn't condemn it. He has no word of commendation for Laodicea, the apostate church.
5. Each letter concludes with the warning, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith."
In this second major division of the book, we see the things that are, that is, church-related things. Each of the seven letters is a message which the Lord Jesus sent to a particular church.
We today may not be conversant with the fact that in the first and second centuries letter-writing and travel were commonplace in the Roman Empire. There was extensive communication throughout the Roman Empire during that period. Therefore, the seven letters of the Apocalypse are very remarkable for other reasons, the most important of which is that they are direct letters from Christ to the churches. (This means that we have two epistles to the Ephesians--one that Paul wrote and one that the Lord Jesus gave through John.) Dr. Deissmann, in his book Light from the Ancient East, made a distinction between letters and epistles which has been proven to be artificial and entirely false. The fact that these are called letters to the seven churches rather than epistles does not lessen their importance. They had an extensive outlet, and they reached multitudes of people. There were many outstanding churches in the Roman Empire, but these seven outstanding churches were chosen for several reasons, one of which was that they were located in probably the most important area of the Roman Empire during the first, second, and even third centuries. The area was important because it was where East and West met. By 2000 B.C. there was a civilization along the coast of Asia Minor (the modern west coast of Turkey). It is a very beautiful area. It reminds me of Southern California--but without smog, of course. Not only is it beautiful, but some of the richest land is there. In ancient times the heart of the great Hittite nation was located there. Ephesus was founded about 2000 B. C. by the Hittites, as was Smyrna (modern Izmir). Pergamum obviously was founded later, and then Thyatira and Sardis even later, and they were made great during the time of Alexander the Great. The Anatolian civilization met the Greek civilization there. You can always tell the difference because the gods of the Anatolians (a more primitive people) were beasts, whereas the gods of the Greeks were projections and enlargements of human beings.
Ephesus was a city of about two hundred thousand people. It was a great city and had a huge outdoor theater which could seat about twenty thousand people. It was a place of resorts, and the Roman emperors came there. It was a city constructed of white marble, a beautiful place, and Paul commented on that. If we think that the impact of the gospel was not great in that area, we are entirely mistaken. Such was the impact of the gospel on Ephesus that four great pillars or towers were placed at the entrance to the harbor, and upon them was the emblem of the cross. One monument was dedicated to Matthew, one to Mark, one to Luke, and one to John. Only one pillar stands there today, but it still bears the symbol of the cross. And there are other evidences of the tremendous impact of the gospel where pagan temples were later turned into churches.
After the ministry of Paul and John, there was a tremendous Christian population in that area. It seems that Paul had his greatest ministry in the city of Ephesus, and Luke writes, "all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19:10). Not all turned to Christ, but everyone heard. That was probably the greatest movement that has ever taken place in the history of the church.
EPHESUS: Ephesus was not only a beautiful city, it was the chief city of the province of Asia. It was called "the Vanity Fair of Asia." Pliny called it "the Light of Asia." It was both the religious and commercial center of that entire area which influenced both East and West Asia and Europe. When Paul landed at the harbor in Ephesus, he looked down Harbor Boulevard, all in white marble. As he moved toward the center of the city, he sow all sorts of lovely buildings, temples, and gift shops. There was a large market on his right as he went up the boulevard, and ahead of him on the side of a mountain was a theater that seated twenty thousand people. Off to his left was the great amphitheater that seated over one hundred thousand people. At times there were as many as one to two million people gathered in Ephesus. It was here that Paul had his greatest ministry, and it was here that John later became pastor.
This city was first formed around the temple of Diana by the Anatolians who worshiped Diana. The first temple was a wooden structure, built in a low place very near the ocean in fact, the waters lapped at the very base. In time, the Cayster and the little Maeander River brought down so much silt that, by the time of Alexander the Great, it had filled in around the temple. I have never seen any country that washes as much as that valley washes. The river itself is as thick as soup because it is carrying so much soil deposit. When Alexander took the city (by the way, the temple burned on the night Alexander was born), he turned it over to one of his generals, Lysimachus. Because the silt was coming and the harbor was filling up, Lysimachus moved the people to a higher location, and that is where the ruins of the city can be seen today. It is the city which was there when Paul came.
At the site of the old temple, a foundation of charcoal and skins was laid over this low, marshy place, and Alexander the Great led in the construction of a new temple of Diana which became one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was the largest Greek temple ever constructed. In it were over one hundred external columns about fifty-six feet in height, of which thirty-six were hand carved. The doors were of cypress wood; columns and walls were of Parian marble; the staircase was carved out of one vine from Cyprus.
The temple served as the bank of Asia and was the depository of vast sums of money. It was an art gallery displaying the masterpieces of Praxiteles, Phidias, Scopas, and Polycletus, Apelles' famous painting of Alexander was there. Behind a purple curtain was the lewd and crude image of Diana, the goddess of fertility. She was many-breasted, carried a club in one hand and a trident in the other. Horrible is Diana of the Ephesians could be accurately substituted for "Great is Diana of the Ephesians." Diana was the most sacred idol of heathenism. Her temple was four times larger than the Parthenon at Athens, and it was finally destroyed by the Goths in A.D. 256. Of course, it was standing in Paul's day. If you want to see something of the magnificence of the place, go to Istanbul, to the Hagia Sophia. Those beautiful green columns that are there were taken out of the temple of Diana by Justinian when he built Hagia Sophia. Seeing only these columns gives us some conception of the beauty of the temple of Diana.
Around the temple of Diana were performed the grossest forms of immorality. She was worshiped by probably more people than was any other idol. The worshipers indulged in the basest religious rites of sensuality and the wildest bacchanalian orgies that were excessive and vicious. And farther inland, the worship of Diana became nothing more than sex orgies, and her name was changed from Diana to Cybele. Paul came to Ephesus on his third missionary journey to begin a ministry. For two years the Word of God went out from the school of Tyrannus. Of this experience Paul wrote, "For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries" (1 Cor. 16:9). Later John, the "apostle of love" and the "son of thunder," came to Ephesus as a pastor. He was exiled to Patmos, then after about ten years of being exiled and imprisoned, he returned to Ephesus. The Basilica of Saint John, which is located on the highest point there, is built over the traditional burial spot of the apostle John.
SMYRNA: Smyrna is the martyr church, the church that suffered martyrdom for Christ. The word Smyrna means "myrrh" and carries the meaning of suffering.
The city of Smyrna is still in existence in our day. It has a Turkish name, Izmir, which may lead you astray, but it is the some city. It has been continuously inhabited from the time it was founded. I have been there; in fact, we stay in Izmir when we visit the sites of the early churches in that area. It is a commercial city. There are those who have told us that Izmir will soon be larger than Istanbul. It will certainly be a larger commercial center. There is a tremendous population there. The modern city covers so much of the ruins of ancient Smyrna that you are apt to miss the beauty which was there.
I have taken some pictures of it and use them as slides in an illustrated message. I try to point out the beauty of that harbor. It is very large and one of the most beautiful harbors that, I have seen. In fact, Smyrna was one of the loveliest cities of Asia. It was called a flower, an ornament, and it has been called the crown of all Asia. The acropolis is located on Mount Pagos. In fact, the early city that goes back to about 2000 B.C., a Hittite city at that time, was built around the slope of Mount Pagos. Later Alexander the Great had a great deal to do with building it into the beautiful city that it became. There were wide boulevards along the slopes of Mount Pagos. Smyrna was called the crown city because, the acropolis was encircled with flowers, a hedge, and myrtle trees. The city was adorned with noble buildings and beautiful temples--a temple of Zeus, a temple of Cybele (Diana), a temple of Aphrodite, a temple of Apollo, and a temple of Aesculapius. Smyrna had a theater and an odeum, that is, a music center--it was the home of music. Also it had a stadium, and it was at that stadium that Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna and student of the apostle John, was martyred, burned alive in A.D. 155.
In Christian literature, Smyrna means "suffering." The Lord Jesus, in His letter addressed to the church there, said that He knew their sufferings and their poverty. He had no word of condemnation for them or for the church at Philadelphia. They were the churches that heard no word of condemnation from Him, and it is interesting that these two cities, Smyrna and Philadelphia, are the only two which have had a continuous existence. Their lampstand has really been moved, but there are a few Christians in Izmir. Although they are under cover, they have made indirect contact with us when we have been there. They do not come out in the open because Christians are persecuted even today in modern Turkey.
As Ephesus represents the apostolic church, so Smyrna represents the martyr church which covers the period from about A.D. 100 to approximately A.D. 314, from the death of the apostle John to the Edict of Toleration by Constantine, which was given in A.D. 313 and ended the persecution of Christians--not only in Smyrna but all over the Roman Empire there were ten intense periods of persecution by ten Roman emperors (these dates are approximate):
Nero: 64-68 (Paul was beheaded under his reign) Domitian: 95-96 (John was exiled during that period) Trajan: 104-117 (Ignatius was burned at the stake) Marcus Aurelius: 161-180 (Polycarp was martyred) Severus: 200-211 Maximinius: 235-237 Decius: 250-253 Valerian: 257 -260 Aurelian: 270-275 Diocletian: 303-313 (the worst emperor of all).
PERGAMUM: In our King James text this city is called Pergamos, but in Turkey it is called Pergamum, and I assume that is the correct spelling.
The church in Pergamum is representative of church history during the period of approximately A.D. 314 to A.D. 590. I call it paganism unlimitedbecause during this time the world entered into the church and it began to move away from the person of Christ. This letter was Christ's message to the local church at Pergamum, of course, but it also has this historical significance.
First, let me give you the location of Pergamum. Izmir is the great city where tourists go because the airport and the hotels are there. You go about sixty-five miles south to reach Ephesus and about seventy miles north to reach Pergamum. These three were the royal cities, and they vied one with another. Smyrna (Izmir) was the great commercial center, Ephesus was the great political center, and Pergamum was the great religious center.
Pergamum was the capital of the kingdom of Pergamum. The acropolis still stands there, and the ruins of the great temples and the city are on top of it. It was a city in Mysia, labeled by Pliny "by far the most illustrious of Asia." It is one of the most beautiful spots in Asia Minor. Sir William Ramsey says that it was the one city that deserved to be called a royal city. In it was a temple built to Caesar Augustus, which made it a royal city. Augustus came to this beautiful area when the climate got cold in Rome. There was a healing spa there. It was not the commercial city that Smyrna was because it was not a seacoast town and it was off the great trade routes which came out of the Orient. But it was a fortified, stronghold city, built to withstand the enemy. It was built on a mountain, and the acropolis dominated the whole region of the broad plain of the Caicus. The original city was built between the two rivers which flowed into the Caicus and entirely surrounded this huge rocky hill, this promontory that stood out there alone. To visit it makes quite an impression. First you see that great mountain standing there, and you see the ruins on top.
Not only did Pergamum boast great temples, but it also had the greatest library of the pagan world. It was a library of over two hundred thousand volumes, In fact, the city got its name from the parchment (pergamena) which was used. This great library was the one which Mark Antony gave to his girl friend, Cleopatra, She lugged it off to Alexandria in Egypt, and that library was considered the, greatest library the world has ever seen--and it originally came from Pergamum.
If you are ever in Istanbul and go into Hagia Sophia, you will see there a great alabaster vase; taller than I am and a thing of beauty, which was brought there from Pergamum. Of course, the city of Pergamum was rifled and denuded by the enemy when they finally took the city and destroyed it.
The phrase, "where Satan's seat [throne] is" reveals that religion was big business in Pergamum and that Satan's headquarters were there. This ought to settle the question for those who think that Satan is in hell at the present time. He has never yet been in hell because hell hasn't opened up for business yet, Satan will not be in hell until much later, as we shall see in chapter 20. At the present; Satan is loose and is the prince of this world, controlling kingdoms and going up and down the earth as a roaring lion, hunting for whom he may devour (see 1 Pet. 5:8), But he does have headquarters, and Christ said they were in Pergamum at that time. Since those days, I think that he has moved his headquarters around to different places. I used to get the impression that he had moved them to Los Angeles, and he may have done so because that is another great religious center of every kind of cult and "ism" and schism.
The reason our Lord said that Satan's throne was in Pergamum was because of the heathen temples there: Of course, all of this is in ruins today. There are markers and some reconstruction going on there now, But in John's day it was Satan's throne. As you enter the gate of the city, you see that the first temple to your right is the imposing temple of Athena. Directly above it is the great library. You would see the great temple of Caesar Augustus and Hadrian's great temple, which covers quite a bit of territory. There are other things that are quite interesting. There is the great altar to Zeus with an idol on it near the palace of the king, It is a very impressive spot, and some folk believe that it was the throne of Satan. Well, I think that it is included but that Satan's throne is a combination of all of these.
There are two other areas which are especially outstanding. One of them is the temple of Dionysius, I crawled down the side of that mountain to get pictures of the ruins of the temple of Dionysius, which is beside the ruins of the theater there. Some folk asked me why I did that. Well, Dionysius is the some as Bacchus, the god of wine, the goat-god. He is depicted with horns, but with his upper part as a man and his lower part as a goat, with cloven feet and a tail. In our day that is the modern idea of Satan, but the notion that Satan has horns, cloven feet, and a forked tail did not come from the Bible. Where did it come from? Well, it came from the temple of Dionysius, the god Bacchus, the god of wine or alcohol. My friend, we ought to be proud that we are Americans, but we also need to bow our heads in shame. Do you know how we got this country in which we live? We got it from the Indians (and I guess they got it from someone else), but the way we got it was not by bullets but by alcohol. Also Hawaii was taken away from the Hawaiians by giving them liquor. Alcohol has taken more territory than anything else. Satan is the god of liquor all right!
Then the other outstanding temple was of the god Asklepios. Down from that great promontory was the greatest hospital of the ancient world. It was the Mayo Clinic of that day. It was, first of all, a temple to Asklepios. If you are looking at the Greek god Asklepios, it is a man, but when you see the Anatolian or Oriental Asklepios, it is a serpent. There in Pergamum it was a serpent. I have pictures which I took of that great marble pillar which stands like an obelisk now but apparently was a pillar in the temple of Asklepios. The construction of the temple was unusual in that it was round. There they used every means of healing imaginable, They used both medicine and psychology--and about everything else.
Put yourself in this situation: you go down long tunnels, and above are holes that look like air holes for ventilation but are not. As you walk along these tunnels, sexy voices come down through the holes, saying to you, "You are going to get well. You are going to feel better. You are going to be healed." (Does that have a modern ring?) You go down to the hot baths where you are given a massage. There is a little theater there where they give plays of healing. If they haven't healed you by now, as a last resort they put you in that temple at night and turn loose the nonpoisonous snakes which crawl over you. (That is known as the shock treatment in our day!) If they don't heal you, they will drive you crazy" that's for sure, They have a back door where they take out the dead. They don't mention the ones they don't heal; they speak only of those who recover. Caesar Augustus loved to go there. He wasn't exactly sick; he was an alcoholic. They just dried him out every year when he would come over. This was a great place, and for seven hundred years it was a hospital that people came to from all over the world. May I soy to you, healing was satanic in those days. There is no question about the fact that there were good men there who used medicine, but basically, it was satanic. It was where Satan's throne was. That is important to see.
Now here is another word of commendation to the believers at Pergamum, "thou holdest fast my, name." They were faithful in their defense of the deity of Christ. As we have noted, the church at Pergamum is representative of the church in general during the years of A.D. 314 to approximately A.D. 590. Actually, it was an age that produced great giants of the faith, When the Arian heresy (which denied the deity of Christ) arose, Athanasius from North Africa was the great defender of the faith, and because of him the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 condemned Arianism. And another man was Augustine, who answered the Pelagian heresy which denied original sin and the total corruption of human nature and also denied irresistible grace. These are two giants during this period who stood unshakably for the great doctrines of the faith.
THYATIRA: The church at Thyatira is representative of Romanism, which takes us into the Dark Ages from A.D. 590 to approximately A. D. 1000. It was a dark period.
When you leave Pergamum, you begin to move inland. Thyatira and the remaining three churches are inland. Thyatira was situated in a very beautiful location. Sir William Ramsoy has written this about it: Thyatira was situated in the mouth of a long vale which extends north and south connecting the Hermus and Caicos Valleys. Down the vale a stream flows south to join the Lycus (near whose left bank Thyatira was situated), one of the chief tributaries of the Hermus, while its northern end is divided by only a ridge of small elevation from the, Caicos Valley. The valleys of the two rivers, Hermus and Caicos, stretch east and west, opening down from the edge of the great central plateau of Anatolia towards the Aegean Sea. Nature has marked out this road, a very easy path, for the tide of communication which in all civilized times must have been large between the one valley and the other. The railway traverses its whole length now: in ancient times one of the chief routes of Asia Minor traversed it.
Thyatira was located in this long vale or pass. Thyatira was a city built for defense. However, most cities built for defense were situated upon an acropolis or a promontory and walls were put around them. But Thyatira was different. It stood in the middle of that vale on a very slight rising ground, Its strength lay in the fact that Rome stationed the elite guard there.
Thyatira was built by Lysimachus and again by Seleucus I, the founder of the Seleucid dynasty, whose vast realm extended from the Hermus Valley to the Himalayas. It finally fell to the enemy. No city in. that area was so completely destroyed and rebuilt as was this city. For this reason, it is very disappointing to visit the ruins of Thyatira in our day, They cover only one very small block.
This city became prosperous under the sponsorship of Vespasian, the Roman emperor. It was the headquarters for many ancient guilds:' the potters', tanners', weavers', robe makers', and dyers' guilds. It was the center of the dyeing industry. This is where the labor unions must have originated! Lydia, the seller of purple, who in Philippi became Paul's first convert in Europe, came from here (see Acts 16:14). That purple color spoken of is what we know today as "Turkey red" --and I mean that color is red. The dye was taken from a plant that grows in that area. Apollo, the sun god, was worshiped here as Tyrimnos.
SARDIS: In the panorama of church history, Sardis represents the Protestant church during the, period between A.D. 1517 and approximately A.D. 1800. It began, I believe, when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the chapel door of the church at Wittenberg; Germany. It is an era which started with the Reformation and takes us into the beginning of the great missionary movement in the history of the church.
Sardis was the capital of the great kingdom of Lydia and one of the oldest and mast important cities of Asia Minor. It was located inland and built an a small, elevated plateau which rises sharply above the Hermus Valley. On all sides but one the rock walls are smooth, nearly perpendicular, and absolutely unscalable. The only access is an the southern side by a very steep and difficult path. One time when I was there, another preacher and I tried to make the climb. He went farther than I did, but we bath gave up long before we reached the top.
As the civilization and the commerce grew mare complex, the high plateau became too small and a lower city was built chiefly an the west side of the original city. The old city was used as an acropolis. Actually this made it a double city, and it was caned by the plural noun Sardeis or Sardis. The plain was well watered by the Pactolus River. It became the center of the carpet industry and was noted far its wealth. Coins were first minted there. Its last prince was the wealthy Croesus who was captured by Cyrus. He was considered the wealthiest man in the world, and everything he touched seemed to turn to gold. Sardis was ruled by the Persians, by Alexander, by Antiochus the, Great, and finally by the Romans. It was destroyed by an earthquake during the reign of Tiberius.
In our day the ruins of the temple of Cybele and also of the temple of Apollo can still be seen. It is one of the few double temples that you will find in the world. Cybele was known as Diana in Ephesus, but when you get inland, she becomes a nature goddess. She was the goddess of the moon, and Apollo was the god of the sun--they were brother and sister. This was a very corrupt worship, much like the worship of Diana at Ephesus.
Extensive excavations have taken place, at Sardis. They are rebuilding the gymnasium and also the synagogue. And they have dug up the Roman road that is there. The thing that thrilled me when I looked at that road was that I knew the apostle Paul had walked up and down it.
PHILADELPHIA: The church in Philadelphia represents what I can the revived church, dating from approximately the beginning of the nineteenth century to the Rapture. This is the church that has turned back to the Word of God. I have visited the city of Philadelphia, and it is today a rather prosperous little Turkish town. It is located in a very beautiful valley that is inland a great distance, about 125-150 miles from the coast. The valley is a very wide one which runs north and south, and the Cogamis River of that valley is a tributary of the Hermus River. The city was built on four or five hills in a picturesque setting. Today it is spread out a great deal, and it is a typical Turkish town.
Philadelphia is in an area that is subject to earthquakes. The great population that was in that area left primarily because of earthquakes and, of course, because of warfare. When Tamerlane and the other great pagan leaders came out of the East, it was a time when all those who were left were slaughtered. Therefore, today no descendants of the original population are there. However, this city has had continuous habitation from its very beginning.
This city was like a Greek island out in Lydia, out in the Anatolian country, an area which the Greeks considered to be heathen and pagan--the Greek ward far it was barbarian. In fact, anyone who was not a Greek was considered a barbarian in those days. The Lydian language was spoken there at first, but by the time of the apostles, the Greek language had taken over, and it was a typical Greek colony. This was the outpost of Greek culture in a truly Asiatic and Anatolian atmosphere. It was called a "little Athens" because of the fact that it was in this area and yet was truly Greek.
It was a fortress city used to waylay the enemy who would came in to destroy the greater cities like Ephesus and Smyrna and Pergamum--these were the three great cities. These other cities were largely fortress cities where garrisons were stationed either to stop the enemy or delay him as he marched toward the western coast.
Philadelphia is in a country where erosion is at work; the soil is quite alluvial, but it is very fertile soil. Beautiful laurel trees, many flowers--I noticed that they are growing just about everything that is imaginable. It was particularly celebrated far its excellent wine. Great vineyards cover the surrounding hills, and the head of Bacchus was imprinted on their coins.
The city did not get its name, as so many seem to think, from the Bible. Actually, the city got its name because of the love that Attalus II had far his brother Eumenes who was king of Pergamum. Attalus had a great love and loyalty for his brother, and because of that it is called "the city of brotherly love,"
In A.D. 17 a great earthquake struck this city and totally destroyed it. The same earthquake totally destroyed Sardis and many other Lydian cities throughout that area. Tiberius, the emperor at that time, allocated a vast sum of money for the rebuilding of these cities, and they were then restored.
This is the one church besides Smyrna far which our Lord had no word of condemnation, Why? Because it had turned to the Word of God. It is interesting concerning the two churches which He did not condemn that the places are still in existence, although the churches have disappeared. However, in Philadelphia there is something quite interesting about which I would like to tell you. First of all, there are the remains of a Byzantine church, which reveals that Christianity was active there up until the twelfth or thirteenth century. The people who are caretakers of that area today must be Christians. Although I could not converse with them, they very graciously brought me a pitcher of water and a dipper on the very warm day I was there. The man and his wife who brought it were all smiles. I couldn't talk to them, and they couldn't talk to me, but I felt that we did communicate something of Christian lave. The remains of that Byzantine church are still there, but that is not the pillar that is mentioned in verse 12, although many believe that it is, and that is where the guides take the tours. However, before my first trip there, I had seen a picture of a big amphitheater in Adam's Biblical Backgrounds; so I told my guide that I wanted to go up there an the side of the hill. The amphitheater was no longer there, but there was a Turkish coffee shop where my guide talked to a man. He said that there had been an amphitheater but it was totally destroyed except far one pillar. I have a picture of that pillar which is hidden away under the trees. Why did the Turkish government get rid of that amphitheater? I'll tell you why: The Seljuk Turks brutally killed the Christians in Philadelphia, and they wanted to get rid of every vestige of that old civilization. Today they would rather that you and I forget about it. Philadelphia is the place where Christian and Saracen fought during the Crusades, and in 1922 Turkey and Greece fought in Philadelphia. There are apparently a few Christians there today, as I have suggested, but they are undercover because they would be severely persecuted. The church of Philadelphia continued into the thirteenth century. This church was in a very strategic area to be a missionary church, and that is actually what it was. I have labeled it the revived church because it returned to the Word of God and began to teach the Word of God.
LAODICEA: The letter of Christ to the church in Laodicea is the last of these seven letters. Sir William Ramsey calls Laodicea "the city of compromise." This city was founded by Antiochus II (261-246 B.C.). It had a Seleucid foundation. Seleucus was one of the generals of Alexander who took Syria. Lysimachus took Asia Minor, but apparently Seleucus moved aver into his territory and took some of his ground, including this city.
Laodicea was about forty miles east and inland from Ephesus and the Lycus River, which flaws into the Maeander River. It is located at what is known as the "Gate of Phrygia." Out of the Oriental East, the great camel caravans came dawn through the Gate of Phrygia and through Laodicea. This road came out of the East and went to Ephesus, to Miletus, and also up to what is called Izmir today but was Smyrna in that day. Laodicea was in a spectacular place, a great valley. Today its ruins are largely covered up with the growth of what looks like wild oats. Its name means "justice of the people." It was named far Laodice, the wife of Antiochus. Although there were several cities which bare this name, this was the mast' famous one of all.
Between Laodicea and going on up to the Phrygian mountains; there was in this valley a great Anatolian temple of the Phrygian gad, Men Karou. This was the primitive god of that area. The temple was the very center of all society, administration; trade, and religion. There was a great market there, and strangers came from everywhere to trade. I suppose that the large market in Istanbul today is very similar to it.
Laodicea was a place of great wealth, of commerce, and of Greek culture. It was a place of science and of literature. It boasted an excellent medical school which, again, was very primitive and actually very heathen. Here is where they developed what was known hi the Roman world as Phrygian powder, a solve far the ears and the eyes. Laodicea was also a center of industry with extensive banking operations. Cicero held court here. It is said that he brought notes here to be cashed in this city. Jupiter, or Zeus, was the object of worship in Laodicea.
The city was finally abandoned because of earthquakes. The very impressive ruins of two Roman theaters, a large stadium, and three early Christian churches are still there. The city itself has not been excavated. In other words, these ruins which I have mentioned protrude through all the debris and wild growth that is there. I have heard that there is an American foundation which has set aside two to three million dollars to excavate Laodicea. I would love to join that excavation for it would be very worthwhile.
Laodicea was a place of great commerce where they made clothing, As you stand an the ruins of Laodicea, you can look around at the nearby hills and see where Colossae is located and also Hieropolis, where there are springs. The greatest ruins are not in Colossae or Laodicea but in Hieropolis. The hills have a very funny color. The people took the clay from those hills, put it with a spikenard, and made it into a salve for the eyes and ears. This salve was shipped all over the Roman Empire. Today the chemical analysis reveals that there is nothing healing in that clay at all, but somebody made good money at it in that day. We like to think we are civilized today, but there is a lot of medicine on the market that won't do you a bit of good; yet we are buying it just as fast as we can because of high-pressure advertising. We had better not criticize these people too much--but the Lord Jesus did. He is going to tell them that they had better get the real eye salve that will open their eyes.
Notes from Ray C. Stedman:
The Church of Ephesus The Church That Lost its Love
What a wonderful week this has been! The whole world has been caught by surprise at the developments in Eastern Europe. New doors of freedom have opened there; even the barrier of the Berlin Wall has been set aside. It has been fascinating to watch. What struck me most was the universal reaction of people to this dramatic change. No one ever expected it to happen! Over and over as people were interviewed they said, "I never believed this would happen in my day." It was not only the common man who was surprised but statesmen, politicians, national leaders and even the military; everyone was wholly taken by wonder at this dramatic breakthrough.
That is highly significant. It indicates that this was not a man-made, planned event. It all happened spontaneously. No one sat down and decided to move, through politics or by the inner counsels of the mighty, to bring this about. It is indicative that a change was made in the councils of God. Somewhere in the invisible realms, where the cosmic battle of the ages is being fought, a blow was struck for liberty! As a result we have a political earthquake which is shaking Europe to its foundations. The interesting thing to me is that it is this invisible war which we are studying in the book of Revelation. This is the book that unveils it for us. And here, at the very beginning of this book, the church is in the forefront -- in the front-line trenches. Let me read again the words of Jesus to John as the apostle saw him in the powerful vision that opens this book:
"Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." (Revelation 1:19-20 NIV)
Then, in Chapter 2 through Chapter 3, we have these remarkable letters to the seven churches. I find many people would like to skip these letters and get on into the juicier sections of Revelation where the great upheavals of the last days are depicted. But it is a great mistake to do that. Our Lord set his church in the midst of the world. It is his instrument to control and determine human history. Jesus calls the church "the light of the world" (Matt 5:14), and "the salt of the earth," (Matthew 5:13). The Apostle Paul calls it "the pillar and ground of the truth," (1 Timothy 3:15 KJV). That is the mystery and mission of the church. It is expected to exert tremendous influence in the world's affairs. It is a mistake, therefore, to pass these letters over. Here we see our Lord correcting things within the church, encouraging and teaching it how to live influentially in the day in which it is called to live.
As we come to these letters we must ask ourselves: "Why are there only seven churches, and why these particular seven?" The only satisfactory answer is that these are representative churches. They are carefully selected churches. There were many other churches in the province of Asia at the time John wrote this letter. Others of them could have been selected, but only these seven were chosen. They were not even the best known churches in Asia, but they were chosen by the Lord because they represent conditions that will obtain throughout the whole period of church history from its beginning to its end. In other words, there are only seven types of churches that exist at any one given period of time. Every church that truly knows Jesus as Lord can be recognized as one of these seven at some particular moment of its history. By repentance or disobedience it may change its classification to another of these seven types, but it will always be found to fit somewhere in this seven-fold pattern.
But beyond that, as many commentators have pointed out, these letters are a kind of preview of the entire history of the church from its beginning to its consummation. In other words they represents even stages or periods of church history. The key that suggests this is the word (in 1:3) that calls this whole book a "prophecy." This prophecy includes Chapters 2 and 3, as well as the rest of the book. Seven, as we have already seen in Chapter 1, is the number of completeness. These letters, then, is our Lord's preview of the entire church throughout its history as it moves through various stages of development.
We must never forget that all of Revelation was written for these seven churches. Each is expected to know and understand the whole book. It is not just Chapters 2 and 3 that concern the churches; their concern is the entire vision that was given to John. As we go through these letters we will try to trace (though in very brief space) the different periods of the history of the church, and also take careful note of what the Lord says to each historic individual church. Somewhere in this listing of churches we will find Peninsula Bible Church as well.
One further preliminary before we turn to the text. These churches are here called "lampstands," i.e., they are light-bearers. They are not the light themselves, but they hold or bear the light. The light, of course, is the truth as it is in Jesus, that truth which God wants the human race to know. There are many truths that are unknown to man in his natural state. No university, great or mighty or important as it may be, has knowledge of the truth which the church is given to tell the world. That is the moral and redemptive "light" which the church is called to reflect to a dark world. It is the business of the church to tell truth to the world. We must never forget that. We are not simply to make our way through this difficult world as best we can, coming together in little holy huddles to survive until the coming of the Lord. We have an influence to exercise, and these letters to the seven churches marvelously reflect that fact.
Notice also that each letter is addressed to the angel of the church. Many commentators struggle over this. What is meant by "the angel of the church"? It is true, as some have pointed out, that this word can be translated "messenger," and in other parts of the New Testament it does have that meaning. But it does not have that meaning elsewhere in Revelation! The word "angel" appears many times in the book outside these seven letters, and in every case it refers to a heavenly being -- what we normally think of as an angel. It is suggestive here that each church has a heavenly being responsible for guiding the human leadership of each.
Some have seen this is as a reference to the pastor, or human leader of the church. That is not likely since in all the churches of the New Testament you never find a single human leader. Leadership is always in the plural -- elders and pastors of churches. It is men who have made that change in the centuries since our Lord began the church. Dr. H. A. Ironside once told me of his experience when he was asked to preach every Sunday in the Brethren Assembly, on 42nd Street in Oakland, many years ago. A certain individual in the church would write him a letter every Monday morning, and he always knew how he had done by the way the letter started. If he had pleased this individual, and had said the things the man agreed with, the letter always began, "To the angel of the church at Oakland, greetings." But if he had displeased him, or said something he did not agree with, the letter would invariably begin, "To Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among us" -- a phrase taken from Third John 1:9.
But here we have no human leader addressed. It is sent to the angel of the church, the one responsible to help the human leaders of the church to know the mind of the Lord. Remember that in Hebrews we are told that angels are "ministering spirits, sent forth to serve the heirs of salvation" (Heb 1:14 KJV), i.e., Christians. It seems very likely therefore that in those invisible realms, which are very real but which we cannot see, there are angels assigned to each church to help the leaders and the congregation to know what is on the heart of its Lord. Now let us come to the church at Ephesus in the opening verses of Chapter 2:
"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: "These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary." (Revelation 2:1-3 NIV)
The first thing the Lord wished to impress upon this church at Ephesus was that he was the Lord of all the churches. He was in their midst, observing among the lampstands. He was also in direct control of the angels of the churches and therefore had full access to the leadership of each church.
This church at Ephesus had been begun by the Apostle Paul. You can read the account of it in the 19th chapter of Acts. When Paul came to Ephesus he found a number of disciples who had been led to some knowledge of truth by Apollos, the great orator of the early church. But they knew nothing but the ministry of John the Baptist. When Paul asked them whether they had received the Holy Spirit they confessed that they did not know that the Holy Spirit had been given. So Paul preached Jesus to them, they believed and were baptized by the Spirit and so the church in Ephesus came into existence. Some time later Paul himself labored there for over two years, and many years later he sent Timothy to this church. (The two letters to Timothy are addressed to him while he is working there). Tradition tells us that after John had written the book of Revelation he also went to Ephesus and spent the closing years of his life there.
Ephesus was not the capital of the Roman province of Asia, but it was the most important city in it. It was a center of great commercial life and a crossroads of the empire. The city was known throughout the Roman world as the center for the worship of the goddess Artemis, and the great temple of Artemis (or Diana, as it is called in the King James Version) was located there. This great temple was larger than two football fields in length, and was one of the seven wonders of the world. Its ruins are still visible today. The city therefore had great influence in the Roman world. As you read the account, you can see much of the same atmosphere of worldly power and influence as in the Bay Area or the city of San Francisco today.
Each of these letters consists of a searching appraisal, of both good and bad, which our Lord makes of the condition of that church; and also an appeal for repentance on the part of those who had fallen away and plea for a return to faith, with a spiritual promise to those who hold fast. The Lord sees three commendable things about this church.
First, he says they were hard, committed workers: "I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance." These Christians were activists. They were not couch potatoes. They took their faith seriously and they put it to work. They witnessed; they labored; they ministered to human needs. They helped the downcast and ministered to the homeless and outcasts of society. They were busy people, continually working, and our Lord commends them for that. Second, their doctrine was orthodox. Jesus commends them highly for this: "I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles, but are not, and have found them false." Their faith was well defined and well defended. They did not run after every theological fad that came along. They examined them as to whether or not they were true. They checked up on what was being taught and they strongly opposed some of the teaching that was being presented by some of the itinerant speakers of that day. In his last visit with the elders of the church at Ephesus the Apostle Paul had warned them that they would have trouble in this area. In the 20th chapter of Acts we find him summoning the elders of Ephesus to come down to him at the city of Miletus. There he delivered to them a farewell message of moving impact because he thought he would never see them again. In the course of it, he said to them, in Verse 29:
"I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears." (Acts 20:29-31 NIV)
So Paul understood the problem that would confront this church. Here, the Lord Jesus recognizes how well they had followed the apostle's advice. They had checked up on speakers, and had refused the teaching of many. They had tested those who claimed to be apostles and found them to be false.
Last week I received a manuscript of a new book that will be published soon by Moody Press. It is a collection of articles written by some of the outstanding evangelical leaders of our day examining the teaching of certain televangelists who are occupying much time and space on our television sets these days. It is a searching, but objective, examination of whether such teaching is in line with the Scriptures. Paul had shown these elders in Ephesus how to test doctrine. He gives it in that same passage, in Verse 32:
"Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." (Acts 20:32 NIV)
What is the ground of testing? It is whether a teaching agrees with the Scriptures, with the "word of God's grace," as he calls it there. If this were more widely practiced today we would probably have been spared much of the terrible, shameful scandals that have occupied the front pages of our papers and other media. Think, for instance, what would have happened here in the Bay Area if some church had analyzed the teaching of Jim Jones and had warned people of his errors. How many of the thousand that he led to their deaths would still be living today if the churches had had the courage and wisdom to analyze his teaching and challenge it! Our Lord commends the Ephesians for doing this. He does not charge them with being judgmental, or say, as many do today, that churches have no right to judge. He points out that this was part of the teaching they had received, and he commends them for it.
The third thing he commends them for is found in Verse 3: "You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary." They had persisted in their teaching and their work despite much discouragement and hardship. They were not quitters. They were sturdy, determined disciples, faithfully working and witnessing and not deviating from the truth they had received. Up to this point in the letter they were getting a grade of A+. But -- that is not the whole story. Our Lord goes on:
"Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate." (Revelation 2:4-6 RSV)
Now we can see that this is a church in serious trouble. Despite all the commendable things, there is something seriously wrong. Our Lord puts it in one brief phrase, "You have abandoned your first love." That is the problem. So serious is that that he says, "If you do not correct it, I will remove your lampstand." This indicates this is a very serious matter. The removal of the lampstand does not mean that the individual members of the church would be lost or condemned to hell. What it means is the church would lose its ability to shed the light of truth. The light from this church would stop shining. They would become a church with no influence or impact spiritually upon the community around. They would be busy doing religious, but entirely irrelevant, things. They would still be working, still orthodox , but inconsequential, with no light, no impact.
Sadly, we have to say that there are thousands of churches like this in our country today. There are churches where congregations are still meeting year after year, Sunday after Sunday, doing religious things -- singing hymns, reciting the Apostles' Creed, perhaps doing some good works in the neighborhood -- but having no spiritual impact, seeing no change in people's lives, no releasing of them from their sins, no changes in the morals or outlooks of a whole community. Their light has failed.
What causes that condition? Our Lord says it is because they left their first love. They abandoned it. When we ask, "What is first love?" the answer is almost obvious. It is the love you felt for Jesus when you first came to know him. It is that wonderful sense of discovery that he loved you, and had delivered you, and freed you from your sins. Your heart went out to him in gratitude and thanksgiving; you had eyes for no one but him. Watch a couple who have fallen in love. Note how they have eyes only for each other. How spacy they are! Talk to them, and they do not even hear you. They are only thinking of the wonder of each other. So it is with a Christian when he first comes to Christ. His heart is filled with gratitude. What an amazing thing it is to him that he has been forgiven! He can hardly believe it. This is why new Christians often break into tears when they give their testimony. I have seen strong men break down completely and are unable to tell their story because it means so much that Jesus has come into their heart. Their home, their family is different. They are forgiven of their sins. The love of Christ seems almost incredible to them. Earlier we heard recited the poem of John Newton,
In evil long I took delight, gnawed by shame or fear, Until a new object met my sight, And stopped my wild career.
He saw that Jesus had forgiven him. He could not believe it. It seemed too wonderful to him.
Amazing love, how can it be That Thou My God should die for me!
That is first love. Under the impact of it, the new Christian eagerly takes on various ministries. It is a delight to serve, to sing, to help, to reach out to others. It seems the least he can do for such a wonderful Lord. That is first love. But gradually there comes an almost imperceptible shift of focus. We get busy, and what we do for Christ begins to loom more and more important to us. Gradually our position, our status, the longing for approval by others, begins to take first place. We go on doing the same things but not from the same drive or motive. We drift into the loss of first love.
There are always symptoms, signs, of this happening. Here are three of them: The first one, visible at first only to the individual, is the loss of the joy and glow of Christian life. It soon becomes humdrum and routine. You begin to feel like you have heard it all already. Even the church service loses its impact. It seems mechanical, routine, dull and drab. That is a sign you are beginning to lose your first love. Second, you lose your ability to love others. One of the great revelations of the Scripture is that the reason we love others is because we have first been loved ourselves. When we lose that consciousness of the wonder of Jesus' love we also lose our awareness of others and find our love for them fading. It is difficult to love. We become critical, censorious, complaining. We begin to choose our friends more closely and only associate with those we like. We lose the compassion that reached out to everyone at first. Then, third, we lose a healthy perspective of ourselves. We become more and more important in our thinking. Instead of what the Lord wants and what will please him we begin to think of what we want and what will please us. Gradually, we become sensitive and touchy, unable to bear criticism. This begins to make divisions and often schisms in a congregation. Individuals in the church are no longer interested in evangelism. They are no longer concerned about those around them without Christ, but are focused on themselves, their own comfort, their own pleasure. Self-centeredness sets in.
Those are the marks of the loss of first love, and this is what was happening at Ephesus. I am fully aware that we have all done this at times. I have. You have. We have all felt the debilitating symptoms of a loss of first love. When a whole congregation begins to reflect that atmosphere it soon loses its influence. Its light goes out. Its lampstand has been removed.
What do you do when that happens? How do you recover from this? Our Lord gives three clear, specific steps to take: Remember, repent, and return! There it is. "Remember the height from which you have fallen." Look back. Remember what it was like when you first came to Jesus. Remember the joy you had in the Lord. Remember the closeness you felt to him and him to you. Remember the inner support you leaned upon in times of pressure and trouble. Remember the ease with which you prayed. Remember the delight you took in other Christians, in the reading of the Word and in the hearing of it. Remember how you could hardly bear to miss a service because you were learning so much of the truth about life. Remember that? Look back. Think back. Our Lord says, "Remember the height from which you have fallen." And then, repent! Change your mind. That is what repentance means. Change your mind about what has taken the place of Jesus in your life. Renounce that ambition, that pride of position, that longing for approval that has become all-important to you and is motivating your work. Give up your critical spirit, your complaining attitude, your reliance on your knowledge or your training to make an impact in life. Put the Lord back in the center and focus of all your endeavors. Repent. Change your mind. And then, return! I will never forget some years ago being at Mt. Hermon with a group of pastors at a pastors' conference. Dr. Bob Munger, who for years was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, stood up before the pastors one day and drew a great circle on the blackboard. He put an "X" in the middle of it, and said, "As I look back on my pastoral ministry there were many years in which I felt I was right in the center of where God wanted me to be. The Lord Jesus was real and vital and important to me. But in these last few years as I look at my life, I find I have drifted." He put an "X" on the periphery of the circle, and said, "I have drifted over to this point. I want to tell you men I am praying, and I ask you to pray for me, that God will lead me back to the center again." I can testify that God did that with Bob Munger and he went on to many years of fruitful service for the Lord. It was a moving thing to hear him do what the Lord tells us to do: repent and return to where you were before. "Do the things you did at first," Jesus says.
What are those things? Well, you read your Bible with eager eyes. You could not get enough of it. You longed to find out what the Word of God said. And you prayed about everything -- even finding a parking place! You responded to the hurts and the needs around you with compassion and with love, and you did not count it an imposition. Above all, you praised God from your heart. You loved to sing praises to his name and to think about his grace to you. Now, do that again, Jesus says. Start there.
At this point, Jesus says a rather strange thing: "But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate," (Verse 6). Why did he not mention that in the things he commended earlier? The answer is that here was where the Ephesians were to begin. There is much controversy as to who these Nicolaitans were. They appear again in the letter to the church at Pergamum, and we will say more about them there. But the Lord links this with the steps to recovery for this Ephesian church because this is where they are to start. Their passion is not all gone yet. In one thing they still retain something of their first love: They hated the practices of the Nicolaitans.
As best we can tell from the early church fathers and the references of Scripture, this was a group that linked Christian faith with loose sexual practices. They believed you could be Christian but your sex life could still reflect that of the world. They tied that in with a false religious piety. They laid claim to special position and power with God, but they lived like the devil. Jesus is saying to these Ephesian Christians, "Retain your hatred of such practices. That is a vestige of your first love still remaining. You hate them because I hate them. Start there. Continue to abhor such practices, but then go back and do the rest of the things again."
When we look at this letter from the standpoint of church history, we see this loss of first love becoming widespread in the churches after the apostles had passed away. This first period of church history covers the years from 70 A. D., when the temple was destroyed, to about 160 A. D., the middle of the 2nd century. During that time the churches were drifting away from a warm, loving, compassion-filled ministry to the world and becoming involved in doctrinal controversies and theological discussions, pounding out the teaching of the church on the anvil of controversy. They were moral, but increasingly formal and perfunctory. This kind of condition is still with us today in many churches. The dominant atmosphere of that first period of church history was a drifting away from loving fellowship with Jesus into a critical and somewhat contentious attitude where human endeavors were of chief importance. Verse 7, which we will take very briefly, contains our Lord's appeal to this church and the promise he makes to it:
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God." (Revelation 2:7 NIV)
"To him who has an ear," i.e., to the one who is willing to listen to the voice of the Lord. Do you have an ear to hear what Jesus says? Do you respond with sympathy and obedience to the word that he gives us? Do you have an opened ear? Then, this is what he says: "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."
The tree of life, you will remember, was in the Garden of Eden at the beginning. It was the tree that Adam and Eve were free to partake of until they sinned. After that, they were excluded from the Garden, lest they should eat of the tree of life. It appears again in the book of Revelation, in the 22nd chapter. There we see the new heaven and the new earth, and the tree of life is in the midst of the city. Its twelve fruits, one for each month, is the food of the people of the city. It is the Fruit of the Month Club, if you like!
Our Lord is himself that tree of life. This is a symbol of Jesus. If we think of him much and draw strength from him, praying to him, and taking from him that strength he offers, we will find ourselves internally strengthened to meet the pressures and the battles we face today. That is what he is saying. Feed upon the tree of life. Listen to what Jesus says, and obey it, and you will soon find your spiritual life flourishing. You will grow strong in the pressures and struggles that come your way. That is the tree of life
The Churches of Smyrna and Pergamum: The Pressured Church and the Compromising Church
It has been often said, with much truth, that Christians ought to live with the newspaper in one hand and a Bible in the other. It takes one to understand the other. The newspaper records the visible events that are taking place upon the earth at the present hour, but the Bible looks beyond to the invisible realm where the councils of God determine what will take place on earth. You cannot really understand life until you see both realms.
It is especially the province of the book of Revelation to open that invisible realm to us. As we look at this great book, we will learn much about what is to happen on earth, as well as what is happening right now. The latter is covered by the letters to the seven churches. The entire church age is brought before us in the purview of these letters. To fit these seven letters into the assigned time period that I have it is necessary for me to take two of them today. So, forgive me as we move quickly through two letters: The letter to the church at Smyrna and the letter to the church at Pergamum.
The first is to the angel of the church at Smyrna. Smyrna was a beautiful city located on the coast about 40 miles north of Ephesus. It was one of the most prosperous cities of Asia. With typical Chamber of Commerce humility the city fathers called it "the pride of Asia." It sounds like San Francisco, does it not? There was a hill named the Pagos back of the city, and around the crest of that hill a number of pagan temples, forming a rough circle, had been erected. Because it looked like a crown, Smyrna was also called "the Crown of Asia." That will explain a reference we find later in this letter.
The city was one of the major centers of emperor worship. As early as 26 A. D., during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, a temple had been erected to the emperor, and thus the Christians of Smyrna were confronted with the need annually to choose between saying, "Jesus is Lord," or, "Caesar is Lord." That was the test the Romans applied to all their citizens. It meant that a great deal of pressure and persecution came upon this church because of their unwillingness to say "Caesar is Lord." There was also a large community of Jews within the city who were hostile to the Christian faith, as we will see. To the church in this city of Smyrna, then, the Lord Jesus addressed these words:
"These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty -- yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Revelation 2:8b-10 NIV)
That is our Lord's appraisal of this church. It is obviously a church in trouble. The name Smyrna means "myrrh." It is a very fitting name because myrrh is a perfume, the fragrance of which is released by crushing. Here was a church that was being crushed through persecution. It was tough to be a Christian in Smyrna because they had to live constantly between two extremes. There was within the church a rich and loving fellowship which must have greatly warmed their hearts and strengthened their faith, but outside, in the city, they faced continuous cruel and persistent hostility. Thus, the Christians of Smyrna lived within these two extremes.
But notice how the Lord reveals himself to them. He says, "I am the First and the Last. I am the one who died and who lives." Those are extremes: First and last; death and life. Jesus presents himself as the Lord of the extremes. He encompasses all the forces and events between these two extremes. Remember that at the giving of the Great Commission he said to his disciples, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given unto me," ( Matt 28:18 KJV). He is Lord of all heavenly and earthly forces. It must have been a great encouragement to the Christians at Smyrna to receive this word from their Lord.
There is an ascending scale of troubles harassing the church. The first thing the Lord says is, "I know your afflictions." The Greek word meansdistresses. It is a picture of crushing, unending pressure upon them. We can best understand what that would be like if we remember what we have read about the Holocaust in Germany, and the continual pressures that the Jews faced daily under the Nazi regime. Every day they were hounded and harassed on every side. They were humiliated and attacked without mercy. It is the kind of distress these Christians in Smyrna were enduring. Perhaps we could update it a bit by likening it to the suffering of the churches of Eastern Europe under the hard-line Communist regime.
The second thing Jesus says is, I know your poverty: "I know your afflictions and your poverty -- yet you are rich." We do not know exactly what made them poor. Smyrna was a prosperous city, but it may have been that this poverty was caused by the persecutions they were experiencing. Their homes perhaps had been pillaged; their possessions taken away. This was common in the early church in times of persecution. Perhaps they had to resort to menial work, and to eat cheap food to get by. Yet the Lord says their fellowship within the congregation and their families was rich indeed.
I well recall in the Great Depression, when I was a high school boy, that we did not have much to eat. We had no luxuries. We could not afford to buy anything but the most basics; even clothing came with great difficulty. But we had a wonderful time together without any special entertainment. We did not have television; we had radio, but where I lived radios were battery operated and used sparingly. Yet we had a wonderfully rich time. I look back on it as one of the richest periods of my life, because we enjoyed each other. We learned again the simple joys of relationships and of family fellowship. Someone has captured the thought of this in a poem I ran across:
I counted dollars while God counted crosses. I counted gain while He counted losses. I counted my worth by the things gained in store, But he sized me up by the scars that I bore. I coveted honors, and sought for degrees.
He wept as he counted the hours on my knees. I never knew till one day by a grave, How vain are the things that we spend life to save. I did not yet know, 'til a Friend from above, Said, richest is he who is rich in God's love!
There is a program on television called "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." On it, there is paraded before us the wealth and luxury seemingly enjoyed by the rich. But if you investigate more closely the lives of those presented, you discover that it is very rare to find a happy person among them. Riches do not make one happy. Fame does not make one happy. A continual testimony to that fact is borne by the tragedy of these people taking their own lives out of sheer wretchedness and misery. But our Lord says the true riches are those that come from within, where the heart is filled with the grace and love of God. There is an experience of close relationships with other people; they become dear and precious to us. That was the experience of the church at Smyrna.
Thirdly, Jesus says, "I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan." There was a smear campaign going on against these Christians. Lies were being told about them. We know from early literature that, because the Christians talked about eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ, they were accused of being cannibals. People thought of them with horror as cannibals, eating one another. You can imagine the reaction that brought upon them. Also, because they refused to visit the pagan temples, or to acknowledge the gods of the pagans, they were called atheists. Consequently they were treated with scorn in this world given over to idolatry. Christians talked often about being members one of another and of loving one another, and so they were accused of sexual orgies. Lies were spread about them that when they met together it was to indulge in licentious and lascivious practices. This slander is what produced much of the persecution of the early Christians. It came, we are told here, from false Jews. These were physical descendants of Abraham and they had a synagogue there in Smyrna, but, like the Pharisees who harassed and hounded Jesus, they persecuted these believers, proving they did not have the spiritual insights of Abraham. They were, in effect, "a synagogue of Satan" and were far removed from being true children of Abraham. It is hard to bear up under slander. I watched recently an interview with Dr. Everett Koop, the former Surgeon General of the United States, and also an interview with Judge Bork who was denied a seat on the Supreme Court. Both of these men testified to the difficulty and pain they suffered from the lies and slanders that were told about them. They were vilified in the public press. They were accused of things they had nothing to do with, and this was hard for them to bear. That is what these Christians were facing.
I read once about a Christian who was going through a time of great misunderstanding and attack, and he could not do much to defend himself. One day a friend of his came up and took him by the hand and told him how much he sympathized with him for what he was going through. But, looking him in the eye, he said, "Remember, they have not spit in your face yet." It was a reference, of course, to Jesus. They did spit in his face. They smote him. They plucked the hair from his beard. They beat him on the back with rods. They lied about him. So Christians who endure mistreatment and misjudgment must remember that the Lord knows what it is like.
But the worst is yet to come. Jesus says, "Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you." This, by the way, is the first mention of the devil in the book of Revelation. The Lord acknowledges that he who is the First and the Last is going to allow this to happen. The devil will put some of them in prison. Those Roman prisons were terrible places where prisoners were faced with the threat of execution at any moment. But our Lord says three very encouraging things. If you ever have to face this kind of persecution here are three things to strengthen you:
First, "You are going to be put into prison to test you." The emphasis ought to be upon the word you. Many read this as though it is God who is the one who is going to learn something by this test. But that cannot be, since God already knows our hearts. He knows what you can take before you ever have to endure it. He does not learn anything new from your testing. But you do! It is to test you that this hardship is given. It is to show you how much you have grown. It is to strip off the superficial supports that you have been leaning on and to show you how much you have truly learned to rely upon the grace and the strength of God. Then, second, he says it will be only for a limited time. He is going to test you "ten days." We do not know when or how this took place though it undoubtedly did occur to this church at Smyrna, but the encouraging thing is that the Lord determined the limits. The test cannot go beyond it. No force or power on earth could make this last eleven days! It was ten days that he had determined. Third, he says, "Be faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life." Surely that is intended to be a contrast to the Crown of Asia, the pagan temple buildings that were built on the hill of Pagos. That was an earthly crown, a recognition of earthly status, and a source of great pride to this city. But our Lord says that he will give something much better -- a Crown of Life, of eternal life. What a much greater thing that is! The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans that "the sufferings of this present moment are not to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us," ( Rom 8:18). In another place he says, "This light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us to produce an eternal weight of glory," (2 Cor 4:17). We are constantly encouraged by the fact that these trials and testings and pressures are doing something valuable to us.
Prophetically viewed, this church is a picture of the period in history from about 160 A.D. to 320 A. D., the rise of Constantine, the first so-called Christian emperor. The whole period has been termed the "Age of the Martyrs." It was not the only time Christians have been martyred. (I have often pointed out that the greatest number of Christians put to death for their faith was not in the 1st century but in the 20th! That is rather startling, is it not?) But, in this first period, they were persecuted in ways almost beyond belief. Their bodies were torn apart on racks. Their fingernails were pulled off. They were hung by their thumbs, oftentimes for days. They were wrapped in animal skins and thrown out for bulls to gore and to pitch around. They were covered with tar and set alight in the gardens to light the festivities of the pagans. If you want the gruesome details get a copy ofFox's Book of Martyrs and read what some of the early Christians went through.
One of the first was a man named Polycarp who was the bishop of this very church at Smyrna. In 155 A.D., at the age of 86, he was sentenced to death by being burnt at the stake for his faith. He had refused to say, "Caesar is Lord." When he died he gave an eloquent testimony to his love for Christ. The account of it has been preserved for us in Fox's Book of Martyrs. In his teens he had known personally the Apostle John, and had probably heard from his lips the truth recorded here in Revelation.
During this period of time there were ten separate edicts of persecution from the Roman emperors. It is predicted in this phrase that the Christians would "suffer persecution for ten days." Historically, there were ten separate persecutions, beginning with the Emperor Domitian in 96 A. D., and continuing to Diocletian, the last emperor before Constantine. This is prophetically portrayed for us here in this remarkable preview of the church age. Now, in Verse 11, our Lord appeals to the individuals in this church:
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. [Notice in all of these letters what is said to all the churches is to be heeded in each.] He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death." (Revelation 2:11 NIV)
If you look up in your concordance what "the second death" refers to, you will find in Chapters 20 and 21 of this book of Revelation three references to the "second death." There we are told plainly what it is: It is the terrible lake of fire, the symbol of the final judgment of the impenitent, those who refuse the gospel of the grace of God. It is prepared for the devil and his angels, but it will be shared by those who choose the devil's way. They will be separated forever from God, tormented in spirit and soul, pictured by the torment that fire gives to the physical body. It is what they have asked for all their life! People who say, "I don't what anything to do with God, I don't want him in my life," eventually are given their way. For the rest of eternity they are separated from the grace, mercy, and love of God. It is the most horrendous torment the human spirit can bear. It is vividly symbolized by the burning lake of fire called "the second death."
Jesus is here simply saying, "If you listen to what this letter is saying to you, if you trust me in times of pressure and persecution, I will give you the gift of eternal life and you will have nothing to fear from the judgment of God." You will be kept safe forever from the second death. It is what Paul rejoices in in Romans 8, "Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord," (Rom 8:38b-39 NIV).
By the way, all Christians are called to be faithful unto death. Did you know that? We are all called to be faithful unto death no matter when or how that death comes. This may sound startling to you, but I have always thought the best way to die as a Christian is to be beheaded! If I were to choose my style of dying it would either be by a sudden heart attack or by being beheaded. It is quick! It is sure! And I believe it would be virtually painless! There is nothing to fear. So Jesus reassures those who prove the reality of their faith by remaining faithful unto death. Now the church at Pergamum:
"To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live -- where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city -- where Satan lives.
"Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth." (Revelation 2:12-16 NIV)
This church is in sharp contrast to the church at Smyrna. Smyrna was enduring persecution; this church was faced with enticement and corruption. The devil has only two ways of approach. If he cannot make you knuckle under with hostility and persecution he will begin to entice you and lure you into something dangerous. It is either intimidation or enticement. It is either the violence of a roaring lion or the corruption of an angel of light. Pergamum is the church that is being undermined by corrupt practices and corrupt teaching.
Our Lord identifies himself to it as the one having "the sharp, doubled-edged sword." As we have already seen, that is the symbol of the Word of God coming from his lips. It is double-edged; it cuts two ways. I believe that refers to the fact that the Word can cleave the skull to get to the mind, and it can pierce the heart to touch the emotions. It can awaken us to reality. By the Word of God our minds begin to learn truth that we never saw before. We see things the way they are, and it motivates us to action. It can also pierce the heart. Remember that on the Day of Pentecost, when Peter had finished his message, the people were cut to the heart, according to the book of Acts. They cried, "Men and brethren, what must we do?" (Acts 2:37 KJV). That is the power of the Word. It touches both the reason and the conscience.
Pergamum was the Roman capital of the province of Asia. Located about 50 miles north of Smyrna. It was a center of pagan worship and there was a temple to Caesar there as well. It is called here, "where Satan has his throne," i.e. the place where Satan rules. And it is also referred to as the city "where Satan lives," i.e., where he has his headquarters. Many scholars think that refers to the great altar of Zeus which was on the hillside overlooking the city. It was a great chair, or throne, forty feet high, and any citizen could look up there at any time and see what Jesus calls "Satan's throne." This was such a center of pagan worship it seemed to be the very center of evil. There is a fascinating footnote of history in connection with this. In the 1880's, about 100 years ago, a German archaeologist working in the city of Pergamum removed that throne, that Satanic seat, from the hillside and took it to Europe. Today it is visible yet in the Pergamum Museum in the city -- get this -- of East Berlin! For 100 years Satan's throne has been in East Berlin. If that has any connection with the rise of Hitler, and the Nazis, I leave to you to judge. But East Berlin is also where Hitler's headquarters were located.
In his appraisal, our Lord assesses the strengths of this church: He says, first, "You remain true to my name." They had refused to budge on their view of his person. They held to the truth about Jesus. They saw him as the God-man, combining in one person two natures, both of God and man. That is orthodox doctrine. That is the teaching of the church from its very beginning, and clearly evident in the Scripture. Against all the corrupting influences around them, these people had held to that truth. Almost all heresies today flow out of a denial of the deity of Jesus. But we must not also deny the humanity of Jesus. He was God as though he had never been man, and man as though he was never God. Both are true. The church at Pergamum had held fast to that teaching. Second, they did this at the risk of their own lives. Jesus says, "You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city -- where Satan lives." Antipas means "against all." We do not know much about this man, although he is said to be the first martyr under the Roman persecution in Asia. Tradition says he was roasted to death in a brazen bull that was heated to a white heat. That is the price that he had to pay for being true to the doctrine about Jesus. He had to stand "against all!"
But two terrible errors were undermining this church: One is called here "the teaching of Balaam." You can read about it in Numbers 25. Balaam was a false prophet who had been hired by Balak, the King of Moab, to curse Israel, but when he tried to do so he found he could not. Every time he tried to curse them, words of blessing came out of his mouth. God would not let him curse his people. So, in order to achieve the end for which he had been hired, he paid beautiful maidens from Moab and Midian to parade before the young men of Israel, tempting them into sexual immorality. Since these women were worshipers of idols, by that means he introduced idol worship into the tribes of Israel. Thus he corrupted and enticed them into sin. The counterpart we face in our day is the practice of pornography and fornication among Christians and the acceptance of unmarriages, of living together without marriage, that is often widespread in the churches today. That is the error of Balaam.
They were also being seduced by the error of the Nicolaitans. Though it is difficult to know exactly who these people were, the name means "conquerors of the people." It appears they claimed to have a special relationship to God. They professed to be the beneficiaries of intimate revelations that were not given to others, and that they therefore had an inside track with God. They presumed to take the place of the priesthood in Judaism, and carried that error into the Christian church. Probably both of these false teachings worked together. One appealed to physical lust, and the other to the ambition for power exercised in a religious way. It is seen yet today in the supremacy of pastors who are lifted up above the laity. They are men who claim to have more intimate relationships with God, and thus are regarded as better than the rest of the people. The way you handle either error, of course, is with the sharp, two-edged sword! Jesus said, "Repent. Otherwise, I will come to you and fight against them with the sword of my mouth." The Word of God exposes both the error of immorality and the error of priestly superiority. That is one reason why the exposition of Scripture is resisted in many churches.
Prophetically, this is the period from the accession of Constantine in 320 A. D. to the rise of the papacy in the 6th century. During that period of time were held the great councils of the church. The council of Nicea, the council of Chalcedon and others, determined the true doctrine of the person of Christ -- who he was, and how he combined in himself the two natures. But it was also the time of the wedding of the church and the world under Constantine. (Incidentally, Pergamum means "marriage." It comes from the same root from which we get monogamy and bigamy). Constantine was not really a true Christian. He adopted many pagan practices and brought them into the church where they were accepted. Christianity was popular in those days, and many pagan practices were incorporated into it. This began when the church was viewed as a worldly kingdom, like any other kingdom. Our Lord's appeal is found in Verse 17:
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it." (Revelation 2:17 NIV)
This is addressed to those who will take heed to the warnings of this letter, and watch in the areas of sexual immorality and of spiritual superiority. If you stand fast against immorality and the love of religious power you will be given the "hidden manna." Notice both the manna and the new name are secret things. It is a picture of close intimacy. Manna, of course, was the food that Moses fed the Israelites in the wilderness. Jesus said in Chapter 6 of John, "I am the bread sent down from heaven," ( John 6:41). He is that hidden manna. He is food for the inner spirit, food that others do not know about. In John 4, our Lord sent his disciples into the city of Sychar to get food. When they came back and found he had been ministering to the woman at the well, he said, "I have had food that you know not of," ( John 4:32). He was feeding upon the inner strength that God the Father was giving him. That is what is given to those who will resist the lure of immorality and spiritual privilege.
Then, with it, is the white stone with a secret name upon it. White stones were used among the Romans as a mark of special favor. A secret name, of course, is a sign of intimacy. Some years ago the well known Christian author, Elizabeth Elliott was speaking here at PBC. For a while I called her Betty Elliott because that was the name used in the book that she wrote about her husband Jim. One day she corrected me. She said, "You know, my name is not Betty, it is Elizabeth. Betty was Jim's private name for me." It was apparent to me that she wanted to preserve it as his name for her alone. So I began to call her Elizabeth instead of Betty. A secret name is a special mark of intimacy. If you know the Lord Jesus, and your heart is kept from the corrupting influences of the world around, you will enjoy an intimacy with him in which the new nature he has given you (depicted by the new name here), becomes stronger and more developed, and you enter into beautiful fellowship and intimacy with him. (Ray Stedman web site:http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/revelation/).
The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia--And their place in the plan of the Apocalypse, W. M. Ramsay, 1904, http://philologos.org/__eb-lttsc/
Web site: Notes and audio: http://ldolphin.org/cleanpages
Haven't You Noticed? It's Heaven on Earth Right Now! The Error of Preterism
--by Jan Markell
Preterism is the eschatological teaching that all Bible prophecy is history. Most of it took place in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. The Tribulation was the persecution of the saints and Nero was the antichrist. At the heart of the doctrine is that prophecy was declared and destined to be fulfilled within the generation of Christ's earthly ministry. All references in the Bible to the "last days" refer to the "last days" of Israel, which means that today she has no more relevance than the Canary Islands. The "New Jerusalem" is the Church now and forever. It will "Christianize" the world.
There are "Full Preterists" and "Partial Preterists." Partial Preterists actually consider much of what Full Preterists teach to be heretical. A Full Preterist says that Jesus returned "in spirit" in 70 AD and NOTHING is future. Good-bye "blessed Hope." We're in "the New Heavens and New Earth" right now and Satan is bound. But to Full and Partial Preterists, hardly anything is taken literally--most all is allegorical or symbolic, particularly the entire book of Revelation. To all Preterists, the Olivet Discourse is not about the coming of our Lord but about the destruction of Jerusalem. Revelation was not written in 95 AD but much earlier according to Full and Partial Preterists.
Partial Preterists do believe in a Second Coming, resurrection of believers (but not in the Rapture), and Judgment Seat of Christ. They do not believe in a literal Millennium, Battle of Armageddon, literal antichrist, or a role for national Israel. Prominent Partial Preterists include Gary DeMar, R.C. Sproul, Ken Gentry, and "The Bible Answerman", Hank Hanegraaff.
This theology wasn't taken seriously until the 17th Century, though they will argue that. They will tell you that Dispensationalism wasn't taken seriously until 1817 which is totally false and is another message. Preterism became prominent thanks to a Jesuit priest, Luis de Alcazar, who sought to defend the Catholic Church against attacks of the Reformers. He sought to defend the Roman Church from some claims they were making about Catholic apostasy. The Preterism taught today, however, only became popular in the late 20th Century.
Dr. Thomas Ice and I will discuss this on this weekend's radio broadcast, January 29 All programs are posted on "Radio Archives" 5-6 days later. So here are some bullet points to consider:
* Nero was the antichrist. The term in the Bible they say is not some "future Fuhrer" but was a symbol of Nero and the Roman Empire. The False Prophet was the leadership of apostate Israel who rejected Christ and worshiped instead the Roman Empire (who tormented them then slaughtered them). Nero's persecutions were limited to Rome, not the whole world.
* Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation are all fulfilled. The destruction of Jerusalem was the Great Tribulation along with the persecution of believers. So how do they justify Matthew 24:21 where it states that the Tribulation will be the worst time in all of history? Many scenarios since 70 AD have been far worse than the destruction of 70 AD including World War II. And ALL NATIONS of the world did not come against Jerusalem in 70 AD...only Rome. All nations coming against her are to be destroyed. It didn't happen.
* Everything is taken symbolically including the Millennium. Actually, there is no Millennium as Dispensationalists know it. We are now in the "Kingdom of Christ" and have been since the days of the early church. Satan is bound, even though the earth is reeling with sorrow, pain, disasters, and godless governments under Communism and radical Islam. More than 50 million believers have died since 70 AD and there have been 15,000 wars. Some "Kingdom"! Our Lord must be weeping.
* Jesus isn't coming back so what do they do with such obvious scriptures as Acts 1:11, "This same Jesus which is taken up from you into Heaven shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go"? This should be a challenge to the Full Preterists who believe He came back "in spirit" in 70 AD and that's it for His return!
* The Jews as a nation did not turn to Messiah in 70 AD as prophesied in Zechariah 12:10.
* If all these events took place in 70 AD, when were the nations judged as described in Matthew 25:31-46. They weren't back then because this is FUTURE.
* As for Nero--he wasn't the antichrist! He died in 68 AD before the destruction of Jerusalem. He was a wimpy emperor though evil, indeed. But he doesn't come close to being the "King of fierce countenance" of Daniel 8:23 and he made no covenant with Israel, Daniel 9:26, 27. Dispensationalists believe he will be destroyed by the King of kings, but Nero committed suicide. Before that, he issued no "mark" and people could buy and sell. He sat in no Temple declaring himself God, demanding he be worshiped (II Thess. 2:4). All Preterists deny there will be future Temples such as the Tribulation Temple and Millennial Temple.
* The vials, bowls, seals, and trumpet judgments of Revelation are all symbolic to all Preterists. Thus the carnage (and victory) of Revelation is overlooked and written off.
* Why can people with this theology accept that all of the prophecies of Jesus' first coming were fulfilled literally but Second Coming verses must be symbolic? Are we permitted to pick and choose like this and remain with any hermeneutical credibility and accuracy? This is Biblically and intellectually disingenuous.
CONCLUSION: Revelation was written in about 95 AD and not before 70 AD. Preterism is just another teaching that is filled with doctrinal error and should not be taken seriously. It takes our eyes off of our "blessed hope"--the glorious return of our Lord to take us out of our world of pain and sorrow. The wonderful time of the lion and lamb side by side will be a glorious time. Satan is hardly bound, but he will be and I trust Fox and CNN capture the moment when he is thrown into the pit forever. The King of kings will inaugurate the greatest kingdom the world has even known! What a glorious day awaits us as believers.
This is but a very brief review of the teaching. Consult my Web site, www.olivetreeviews.org, then go to Prophecy Watch for many articles on Preterism. Also get Dr. Thomas Ice's book, "The End Times' Controversy--The Second Coming Under Attack." It is co-authored by Tim LaHaye, a man derided by most Preterists.
Awaiting His return, Jan Markell. Contact: Olive Tree Ministries, Box 1452, Maple Grove, MN 55311. http://www.olivetreeviews.org