The Compromising Church (Pergamum)
12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write,
‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: 13 “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there, those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. 16 Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. 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 to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”
The city of Pergamum was located north of Ephesus and Smyrna and about 15 miles inland from the Aegean Sea. It has been estimated that Pergamum had a population of more than 160,000. Pergamum was cultural, religious and intellectual region. And again, this city is also filled with pagan religion. There were four major pagan temples located there, the temples to Athena (the goddess of wisdom and the arts), Asclepisis (the god of medicine, whose insignia was the entwined serpent on a staff, which is still the medical symbol today), Dionysus (the god of wine and immorality), and Zeus (ruler of the heavens and father of other gods).
Christ is representing Himself to the pastor of the church in Pergamum as one who has the authority to judge. “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword.” The writer of the book of Hebrews also mentions our Lord in the same matter, as the only One with authority to judge.
12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
Christ is saying that He sees everything that we do. He knows our hearts and our thoughts. We will one day have to give account for our actions, attitudes and thoughts to the One who has the power to divide soul and spirit.
If we think that we can get away with anything without God knowing it, then we are deceiving ourselves. God is all knowing. He knows us better than we know ourselves. So…from the opening letter, Jesus makes it clear that He alone is the judge! Let us now dig into why this letter was, and what was the offence of this church.
“I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
The Lord says, “I know you’re serving me in the very place where Satan’s throne is located.” Satan operated his demonic, unseen underworld in the spirit realm from the city of Pergamos. Pergamos was Satan’s ancient headquarters…in other words, it was like the Washington D.C. of Asia Minor! Of course, I am not saying that Washington D.C. is corrupt, but It had a lot of political power. So…satan, being as cunning and deceiving as he is, who better to corrupt but those with high status.
The city of Pergamos was known for its political power, and for emperor worship. It was the first city ever to have a temple dedicated to Caesar. And once a year the residents of Pergamos were forced to enter the temple of Caesar...forced to burn incense upon the altar of Caesar, and to say out loud, “Caesar is god.”
Now, like their brothers and sisters in Smyrna, the Christians at the church in Pergamos were suffering terrible persecutions at the time of this letter. Some of them were dying for the cause of Christ, and Jesus calls one of them by name in v. 13…Antipas.
Secular history tells us more about this man Antipas, whose name, by the way, means “against all”. Antipas was brought to the temple of Caesar and commanded to swear out loud that Caesar is god. Antipas cried boldly, “Jesus alone is God!” A Roman official said, “Antipas, don’t you know that the whole world is against you?” He replied, “Then Antipas is against the whole world!” Antipas was put into a large, hollow, brass bull, and a fire was built under it, creating an oven where they roasted Antipas to death. (Pic 1) Again, like I had mentioned, secular history. Not much was ever mentioned about Antipas, except for this book.
From last Sunday’s message there was Pastor named Polycarp, who was commanded to deny Jesus or else be burned alive to the point of death. Now we have a martyr named Antipas, also had been given a command to proclaim Cesar as god. To his fate, he died in an oven shaped bull!
From last Sunday’s message on Smyrna, Satan attacked the early church like a roaring lion, but when he found that he could not destroy it, and could not get the people to curse God, he shifted his battle plan and attacked a different church.
Christ is commending the Christians of this church for not renouncing their faith, even though they lived in a city controlled by Satan. Sin abounds all around them. Some of them like Antipas even lost their lives, because they refused to renounce their faith in God. This is even happening today all over the world. Christians are being murdered because they will not give up their faith in God. This is happening in Pakistan, Sudan and most of the Arab and Islamic nations. And even today…not only with the church shootings, satan is also using all the churches…all the different denominations, who carry the name of Christ, against each other. Do you see that church? That is why we truly need the strength, the discernment of the Holy Spirit, to see right from wrong. If not…then we will fall into the hands…the traps of satan.
But I have a few things against you, because you have there, those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
Are you all familiar with the story of Balaam and Balak? If not you can read more about this story in (Numbers 22-25) Balak was king of Moab and he was afraid that the Israelites, who had just came out of Egypt, and would attack and kill all of them. Balak sent for Balaam the prophet to place a curse upon the Israelites so that he could destroy the Israelites. God told Balaam not to curse the Israelites, but to say the words of blessings that God gave him. Since Balaam could not curse the Israelites, he taught Balak how to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. If you can’t outwardly defeat them, then inwardly deceive them and tear down their moral foundation.
Our Christian principles and morals are being attacked everyday, in this country. Will it be our downfall? The Moab women enticed the men of Israel to commit immoral (sexual) acts and to make sacrifices to their gods. The men of Israel ate and bowed down before these gods. God told Moses to kill all the leaders of Israel who have joined in worshipping Baal. As a result of this idolatry and fornication, which was caused by compromise, 24,000 Israelites died. Therefore, we find the doctrine of Balaam was a lowering of the standard of separation God expects from His people and a compromise with the world. Hence the title, “The Compromising Church”.
Christ also condemned the church for allowing some to hold to the teachings of the Nicolaitans. In the first sermon on the church of Ephesus we learned that the Nicolaitans were a sect of the Gnostic, who taught impure doctrines and followed impure practices. They were thought to have derived their origin from Nicolas, one of the seven deacons mentioned in Acts 6:5. The Nicolaitanes taught community of wives, that adultery and fornication were things that are indifferent, (meaning, its neither good nor bad) that eating meats offered to idols was quite lawful and mixed several pagan rites with the Christian ceremonies. Basically… they were twisting the truth of Gods commands. No shocker there…same tactic the serpent used on Eve in the garden. Satan twisted the truth.
Do we have the same problems in our churches today? Since September 11, I have heard and seen even religious leaders accept other religions as worshipping the same God that we worship. I have seen our government hold prayer services where religious leaders of other faiths were invited to pray to their gods as we prayed to our true God. I have read where the Catholic Pope called all the religious leaders together to pray for peace. The Pope commented that they were all praying to the same god. Well, we all don’t have the same god, their god isn’t the God that we worship.
Jesus tells us that no one comes unto the Father except through Him (Jesus Christ). This is the same thing that some of the Christians of the church of Pergamum were doing. They were participating in the religious ceremonies. We as Christians cannot compromise…Gods divine doctrine just to be politically correct and not to offend anyone.
Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
For us to accept the compromise…to serve God, but stay in the world, is to buy the lie…the devil’s lie and as we have learned, Satan mixes truth and error in his big bowl, and sadly many Christians will swallow it whole! This verse was a warning to this church. Its also a warning for you and me!
And then, we try to justify our failures be saying…see if this sounds familiar, “Im saved by grace, I can do whatever I want”. Or “im not perfect God will understand”. YES…church, you and I are saved by grace alone and not by works, and again YES…we will never be perfect as long as we are in the flesh. But shouldn’t stop us from fighting sin, right! Being saved by grace, and not being perfect shouldn’t stop us from hating sin, right!
The battle with sin is an everyday battle for as long as we are here, and it doesn’t mean that we compromise our faith in God and His commands. Do we just give up…give in to the enemy? Of course not! We fight on, we persevere, we don’t give up. As hard as the battle may be…WE DON’T GIVE UP, WE DON’T SURRENDER TO THE ENEMY!!! You want to know, we cannot? Because God will not let go of His own. Christians are Gods gift to His Son, and they are precious to Him.
“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 to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”
Jesus is warning us to listen to what He is saying to the churches, because it also applies to us today. If we overcome our transgressions, Christ will give us life. The manna that God gave to the Israelites while in the dessert sustained them. It provided the nourishment needed to sustain life. Some of that manna was placed in a golden pot and put into the Ark of the Covenant as a memorial of God’s gracious provisions for Israel in the wilderness. The hidden manna may be spiritual nourishment to keep us going on the straight and narrow until we eat of the bread of life.
57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”
Jesus is promising eternal life to those who overcomes. Jesus will also give us a white stone with a new name written on it. White and black stones were used in ancient courts of justice when a vote was taken as to the quilt of an accused person. Satan is constantly accusing us to the Father of our sins, but Jesus has cast a white stone showing that we have been acquitted of all guilt of sin, by the blood of Jesus Christ.
If you have unconfessed sin in your life, then what is stopping you from confessing to the One who will forgive? If you don’t, then sadly you have not been free from sins chains. Confess it to our Lord…be forgiven and be saved! And if the battle with sin gets to be too big and overwhelming…lets fight it together. Better yet…lets fight it together…with the One who has conquered all.
1 John 4:4
4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”.
Let us pray…
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: 9 “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death”.
In our first study of the seven churches we examined the church at Ephesus, the fallen church, this afternoon, we leave Ephesus behind and travel about forty miles North up the coast of modern Turkey where we come to the ancient city of Smyrna which is now known as Izmir. Forty miles is like from our church to Donner Lake or Lake Tahoe. Which are both around forty miles travel mark or maybe more.
As cities go Smyrna was one of the most beautiful of the ancient world, with wonderful physical features and magnificent architecture. Ancient Smyrna was the Paris of its day. Wealthy, stylish, and everything was measured by the standard of wealth, everyone was after symbols of status.
Like all Roman cities Smyrna was saturated with paganism. At the foot of Mount Pagos stood the temple of Zeus the father of the gods, along the Golden Street were shrines to Apollo, the sun god, and Aphrodite the goddess of love and beauty.
Commercially, the city of Smyrna was most famous for one product… Myrrh. Indeed, so synonymous was the city with myrrh that it drew its name from the product Smyrna meaning bitter. Myrrh is a resin which is harvested from a tree and had a bitter taste. It is associated with suffering and sorrow, and that is fitting for the church at Smyrna, because it was also called a “suffering church”.
When it comes to the life of our Lord Jesus, Myrrh…seems to always be in the picture. For example: Every Christmas and we are reminded of the gifts given to the Christ child. Gold, frankincense and myrrh. On the cross Christ was offered to drink “wine mixed with myrrh” (Mark 15:23) After His death He was embalmed with “a mixture of myrrh and aloes” (John 19:39).
At His birth, death and burial myrrh features, but not at His coming again for Isaiah tells us that when the Lord returns in glory, He will be presented with gold and frankincense but no myrrh “They shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD.” (Isaiah 60:6). When He comes again the Lord Jesus comes as Sovereign and not as Sufferer therefore there is no more mention of Myrrh.
Now, let’s talk about this church at Smyrna. Who started it no one knows, but we do know from church history that its Pastor at the time of this letter was Polycarp. You will never see the church of Smyrna mentioned anywhere in the book of Acts, when the Apostles started planting churches. Not much was mentioned about this church, except from this passage of scripture.
Smyrna was a suffering church, constantly subjected to persecution by the pagan people because of their resistance to idols by the Romans, because they refused to acknowledge the Emperor as a god, and by the Jews who were constantly stirring trouble for the Christians there. There are great lessons for churches in this passage concerning tribulation and trial, and there is much we can learn from it.
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life.
Jesus addresses the believer of Smyrna and reminds them of Him (Jesus) being the “First and the Last”. What was Jesus trying to say to this church by His comment of being the “First and the Last”? It is not without reason that the Lord addresses them in this way. After all, this city was full of paganism, citizens of Smyrna worshipped many gods.
Basically, Jesus was telling them that there was no other God…there is no true God but Him.
He was the First, there was no one else who came after, and He would be the Last. There would be no other God than Jesus, Himself.
“Thus, says the Lord, the King of Israel, And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
‘I am the First and I am the Last; Besides Me there is no God.
“Listen to me, Jacob, Israel, whom I have called:
I am He; I am the First and I am the Last.
Throughout the book of Revelations, Jesus will also be mentioned as…
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”
Basically, Jesus remind them that He alone is God, and there will be no other. All the other gods that this city was worshipping meant nothing, they were a bunch of nobody’s claiming to be some sort of a god!
9 “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan.
If last weeks message is still fresh in your head, Jesus said the exact same opening, as He did with the church of Ephesus, “I know your works”. Like I had mentioned last week, God knows the heart of every creation. God knows whether you are for real or not! “The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Timothy 2:19) You can fool everyone around you, but not God.
“I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich) This passage is filled with the sorrow and sufferings of the saints at Smyrna. As nice and as glamorous as this city was, this church had no part of that. They did not join in…in what this city was all about. They separated themselves from every false beliefs. They didn’t do what the rest of the world was doing, it didn’t matter to them if they were not popular… in the sense of fame. They stood firm in the Lord. Did you notice, there was no condemnation to this church as the Ephesian church did?
The Lord Jesus sees every sorrow, His heart feels every pain. He counts every tear, He senses the oppression of their grief’s. He felt the full weight of their burdens. Not a trial had passed unnoticed, not a difficulty unobserved. Church, the Lord Jesus knows all about it. He knows every sadness, trials, pressures we endure.
This church is not much different than the churches we see today. There are so many churches today, and each and every one are claiming that they are the right church. Every other church are all false. But, search for the Truth. See with the eyes of your heart whether or not its Jesus who runs the church as the Head of that church. If not…then the second part of this verse comes in…
“I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan”. There in Smyrna was a large Jewish community and a well-established synagogue.
We should not be surprised at this, there was money to be made in that city. And where there is a thriving commercial community almost invariably, as freedom allows there is a thriving Jewish community.
These Jews were guilty of the blasphemy in the Lord’s sight. These Jews were slandering the church and by their slander, and accusations they had brought misery upon God’s people.
Of course, Satan is the accuser or slanderer of the brethren, and so the Lord ties in their deeds with His and without mincing His words He calls them the “synagogue of Satan”.
When you attack the bride… you attack the groom. Slander the church, slander the Lord of the church. These Jews had made life miserable for the Smyrnian Christians and they weren’t finished yet, there was more to come. But the Lord told them not to fear.
10 Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Their trial was by no means over, but the Lord was with them in it, and the very worst that could happen was for them to be transported to glory. See what the devil has in stored for them… “the devil is about to throw some of you into prison”. You know when things are difficult Satan doesn’t give up. He adds to the burden, pain, suffering, he inflicts us with greater problems, he casts his fiery darts our way. And God will allow this for every believer as way of testing, and revelation of true faith.
You may be asking, Why…was God letting the Jews at Smyrna get away with their slander? Why was He permitting Satan to afflict the church further? “that you may be tested”. You see…many false believers were lead to Christ with a promise of a good life. With Christ, you can have whatever you want, just ask and it will be given to you. Well…this church didn’t get what they wanted, they were poor, but rich. (IN HEAVEN)
I guess even the Apostles missed that promise of health, wealth and fame. They were hated, persecuted, prisoned, and put to death. So…where was that promise of a good life for the Apostles? Not here…but in heaven, for all eternity. That is why many so-called believers turn away from God when trials come. False believers will always fail the test because their strength is on their own. They never really believed in God, they just believed in what God can do! Many just wants the benefits…but never to really love God.
This trials that believers face is not just a trial of the flesh, but of faith. “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life”. Do you remember what the Lord said to Peter on the night of His arrest?
31 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
You see, satan was asking for Peters life, but Jesus prayed for Peter not to fail. You see, satan can only do to us, what God will allow…nothing more. And because of the strength that Jesus gave Peter…Peter became a good testimony for the church. Years later, Peter was to remind the church that they would be tried as gold by fire, but the believer’s faith is much more precious than gold that perishes.
1 Peter 1:6-7
6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Is God allowing satan to test you…then “be faithful”.
“will have tribulation ten days”. Every trial has its limit. As hard as it may be to believe it when we are in the valley and there is an end in sight. We will step unto the mountain top again, There will be better days. At Smyrna the trial had only, ten more days to run and it was to be over. Much debate surrounds what is meant by ten days - but it matters little, the point is that there was to be a limit to their sufferings. The devil may well have been allowed to cast some into prison, but he could not go a day beyond the Lord’s ten days. Even when man and Satan are doing their worst - God is still in control.
There is a reward for the saints…
“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life”. 11 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death”.
Crowns meant a great deal to the people of Smyrna. Faithfulness also meant much to the Smyrnians. Now the Lord Jesus combines those concepts and say “I have a crown... the crown of life... and it is the reward of all those who remain faithful in suffering.” When you are facing suffering, the easiest thing is to compromise your faith or quit it altogether.
The Lord said, “Be faithful until death.” But what does it mean to be faithful? One must be convinced, to go through the trial…. you must be convinced of the Lord is with you through the trial.
11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war.
The Lord fought for them and the Lord still fights for you. even to the very last and final battle…the Lord fights for His own!
History records the last words of their Pastor Polycarp as he faced execution for His faith. When he was urged to recant, he replied “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me wrong. How can I now speak evil of my King who has saved me?” At that they tied the old man to a stake and burned him to death. Polycarp secured the crown of life. He was not hurt of the second death.
There may be some among our number here this afternoon and you are suffering a great deal. To you the Lord says “I know all about it. I feel your hurt, I sense your need, I understand the kind of pressures you are under. To your church He says I “I know ... your discouragement, difficulties, distress.” Not only does He know & understand, but he holds out a hope, that is… that our trials will not last forever. He is Lord of our tribulations also and He has limited their duration.
To you who are hurting & suffering this afternoon, He holds out a reward that is yours, the crown of life. I expect every Christian wonders… from time to time if he or she will have any crowns. But if you are suffering and remain faithful in your suffering, rest assured there is a crown for you.
Our last verse:
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death”.
The Loveless Church (Ephesus)
“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,
‘These things says, He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: 2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. 6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God”.
The church at Ephesus is the only church in the New Testament to which two apostles addressed letters. When Paul wrote to Ephesus, it was at a time when the church stood at the high point of spirituality. Of all the truths revealed through Paul, none excel the truths revealed in the Epistle to the Ephesians. But when John wrote to Ephesus, it was a time of crisis in the church. Paul wrote to the saints, John to the angel.
Christians reading these opening chapters of Revelation often asks, “Which church is ours like?” Surely, a particular church may share positive and negative traits with several of the Asian churches. This is probably why Jesus told John to write one letter to seven churches. They all got to read each other’s mail. Taken together, the letters give us a good picture of what Jesus expects from His church… faithful gatherings, made up of believers who can overcome. Jesus still expects us to overcome and He promises His help along the way. Rather than trying to decide which churches ours resembles, focus on faithful obedience to Christ.
The first letter is addressed to the church in Ephesus it is considered to be a city of great political importance. Aquila, Priscilla, and Paul had planted the church in Ephesus (see Acts 19) Timothy had ministered there (1 Timothy 1:3) John the writer of this letter, was closely associated with the church. A letter carrier would leave the island of Patmos (where John was exiled), arriving first at the port of Ephesus, where he would begin his journey by visiting the seven churches.
The basic problem with the church in Ephesus is that even though church members had stood firm against evil and false teaching, they had left their “first love”, their basic love for Christ and for one another. (The Two Greatest Commands)
“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,
‘These things say’s, He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.
Paul had ministered in Ephesus for three years and had warned the Ephesian believers that false teachers would come and try to draw people away from the faith (Acts 20:29-31). False teachers did indeed cause problems in the Ephesian church, but the church resisted them, as we can see from Paul’s letters to Timothy, who stayed in Ephesus when Paul left for Macedonia. John spent much of his ministry in this city and knew that these believers had resisted false teaching.
Although John was writing… the words are clearly from Christ, “He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands”. Christ controls the churches. Christ is described differently in every letter, mainly because each description is tied to the problems of that specific church. That fact that… Christ held these churches in His hand shows that He was in control over the churches. Ephesus had become a large, proud church and Christ’s message would remind them that He alone is the Head of the body of believers.
How easy it is for a church to become proud and forget that pastors and teachers are God’s gifts, also just servant to Christ (Ephesians 4:11) who may be taken away at any time. Some churches need to be cautioned to worship the Lord and not their pastor! (I must admit that in the past I have been guilty of placing certain pastors on a pedestal, only to be disappointed every time I do it, and rebuked by the Lord) That He is Lord.
He holds the seven stars in His right hand. That is to say… Christ holds the Churches in His hand. Our security lies in the fact that we are in the hand of Christ. “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28)
He walks in the midst of the seven golden Lampstands. The Lampstands are the Churches. This expression tells us of Christ’s activity is in the midst of His Churches. He is not confined to any one of them, wherever believers are meant to worship in His name… Christ is there. In the early days of the Church, Christ walked in the midst as the recognized Head, and men took instructions from Him.
22 And He put all things under His feet and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Christ’s true sheep are safe in His hand and are thus led by Him (John 10:27). His “walking” among the Lampstands may imply an inspection of their condition, one by one. The stars are His light-bearers…He holds them. In every assembly of believers where Christ is honored as its Head, He walks among His own and takes a watchful interest in them.
2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.
From what we have read in these verses, they were doing a good job. These verses was an approval of their service. Christ keeps an account of every work His servants do for Him, and their labor shall not be in vain. Over a long period of time, this church had steadfastly refused to tolerate sin among its members. This was not easy in a city noted for immoral sexual practices associated with the worship of the goddess Artemis. The Ephesian church had been strong in its teachings and had resisted false teachers.
Christ commended the church at Ephesus for five things:
1: Working hard “I know your works”
2: Persevering “your patience”
3: Resisting sin “cannot bear those who are evil”
4: Critically examining the claims of false apostles “tested those who say they are apostles”
5: Enduring patiently “have patience and labored for My names sake”
(From my understanding, this church had continued in its faithful service to God for more than 40 years) and bearing up without becoming weary.
All of these characteristics show a church busy doing good works and suffering willingly for the cause of Christ. The Ephesian believers knew evil when they saw it and did not tolerate it. The Lord wrote, “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil.” I know James would never have written to Ephesus with his stinging rebuke, “Faith without works is dead.” This church was full of good works. It was faithful in good works.
The false apostles would be those who claimed to be believers but were not. The church had succeeded in weeding out those who falsely claimed apostleship. Generally, the word “apostle” in the New Testament refers only to the first 12 disciples of Jesus, (minus one) because of their special place in building the foundation of the church.
It was not at all easy going at Ephesus. The believers had their share of opposition and criticism from the world. But they did not give up easily. They kept on year after year, despite lack of fruit and poor results. They may not have been very fruitful, but they were certainly faithful. They struggled on, and God commended them for it. No matter how you examine this congregation, you can conclude that it is just about perfect. However, the One among the Lampstands (Jesus) looked into their hearts and judged fairly. At the time the Revelation was written, John was possibly the only living apostle left.
Despite the commendations, Christ had something against this church…
Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
They had forsaken their first love. This “first love” probably refers to, “Love the Lord your God . . . And your neighbor as yourself” (see Acts 20:35; Ephesians 1:15) It is the devotion to Christ that so often characterizes the new believer. The Ephesians… though commended for their zeal in protecting the faith, had fallen into caring more about doctrine and truth than they did for the person of Jesus. The same thing happened to the sect of the Pharisees, they concentrated so much on keeping all the Law that they failed to love God and to love those who were not Pharisees. You might say, they lost God in His Word.
Every church should have pure faith and root out heresy. But these good efforts should spring from their love for Jesus Christ and for other believers. Both Jesus and John stressed love for one another as an authentic truth of the gospel (John 13:34 & 1 John 3:18-19).
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
And again in…
1 John 3:18-19
18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. 19 And by this we know that we are of the truth and shall assure our hearts before Him.
In the battle to maintain sound teaching, moral and doctrinal purity, it is possible to lose a loving spirit. Yet we need both. Prolonged conflict can weaken or destroy patience and affection. In defending the faith, believers must guard against any structure that weakens love.
It is possible to serve the Lord for a variety of motives, for the praise of men, for prestige or position, for the sake of reputation, because it is simply the thing to do, because of a sense of unity. If service for God is not born out of a devoted passion for the Lord Jesus it is worthless. What we do for the Lord is important, that is why we do it!
When a church leaves its “first love” (or when an individual does), it is a serious and dangerous matter. This was definitely a busy church with lots of great programs, but no amount of activity, however intense, can compensate for a lack of love. This church had left its first love, and this was serious, for the Lord is jealous of our hearts, and it is no small thing for Him to see our love declining. Love is the first essential in Christian character, and when it begins to decline, the soul begins to drift. Most of the Ephesian Christians were now second-generation believers, and though they had retained purity of doctrine and life and had maintained a high level of service, they were lacking in deep devotion to Christ.
5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.
They must consider how far they have fallen. They must repent. If they don’t comply, Jesus will pronounce judgment, and their effectiveness as a church of God will be lost. Our Lord admonishes His Church to turn from her sins to her first love.
If they refused to repent, however, Christ said that He would come and remove the church’s lampstand from its place. For Jesus to remove the church’s lampstand from its place would mean the church would cease to be a church. Just as the seven-branch candlestick in the temple gave light for the priest to see, the churches were to give light to their surrounding communities. But Jesus warned them that their lights could go out. In fact, Jesus himself would extinguish any light that did not fulfill its purpose. The church had to repent of its sins.
The removal of the lampstand as a light-bearer has nothing to do with the salvation of the individual. It has to do with the Church as a whole. Certainly, the lamps which once shown so brightly in this particular part of the earth, especially in the city of Ephesus…had been taken out of their place, and gross darkness engulfs that part of the world today.
Mohammedanism is the religion in the seven cities were these churches were located. So, we see that the lampstand has been removed. The light of the pure Gospel does not shine as it did when Paul preached in Ephesus or even as it did when John was there.
But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Christ had added a further commendation (which comes almost as an afterthought) to this church in Ephesus…He credited them for hating the works of the Nicolaitans, which Christ also hated. While it is clear from this verse that the Nicolaitans represent a heresy, we have only speculation as to the origin and specifics.
The Nicolaitans were believers who had compromised their faith in order to enjoy some of the sinful practices of Ephesian society, including idolatry and sexual immorality.
They were almost certainly people who argued along these lines. (a) The Law is ended; therefore, there are no laws and we are entitled to do what we like. They confused Christian liberty with unchristian license. They were the very kind of people whom Paul urged not to use their liberty as an opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13). (b) They probably argued that the body is evil anyway and that a man could do what he liked with it because it did not matter. (c) They probably argued that the Christian was so defended by grace that he could do anything, and no harm would come of it. Sounds very familiar from many claiming Christians today. “I’m saved, I can do whatever I want. I have freewill”.
The name “Nicolaitans” is roughly the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word for “Balaamites.” Balaam was a prophet who induced the Israelites to carry out their lustful desires (Numbers 31:16). In Pergamum they were very closely connected with those “who hold the teaching of Balaam,” and that in turn is connected with things offered to idols and with immorality. (A few verses after this, to the church of Pergamum, Balaam will be mentioned)
These Nicolaitans had incorporated some Greek, some Christian, and some Jewish practices to form a sort of civil religion. It may have been that they were willing to worship in the imperial cult, worshipping the emperor, and justifying it has a civil duty.
The Nicolaitans were suggesting that there was no reason why a Christian should not come to terms with the world. (Remember from last week’s message, “friend of the world is an enemy of God”.) This teaching naturally affected the upper classes the most, because they had the most to lose if they went all the way with the Christian demand. To John the Nicolaitans were worse than pagans, for they were the enemy within the gates.
Take note that the danger to the church is not coming from outside the Church but from the inside. The claim of these heretics was that they were not destroying Christianity but presenting an improved or other version.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God”.
The appeal is made to each individual in the Church. Christ pleads to His church to give the Holy Spirit His rightful place. Literally and actually Christ is not here in Person. He said that He was going away (John 14:2), and that He would send the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26).
It is the Holy Spirit who testifies of Christ and glorifies Him (John 15:26-27), and it is He who convicts of sin (John 16:7-11). It is the Holy Spirit who regenerates (Titus 3:5) and who chooses the believers body in which to reside (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). It was to the Ephesian Church that Paul wrote exhorting the saints to “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30) and “be filled with the spirit” (Ephesians 5:18)
Each of the seven letters ends with the exhortation. The words of the Spirit are the words of Christ. Note that all the letters were to be read to all the churches. Those who “hear” what is read should then “listen to the Spirit” in order to understand what the Spirit is saying and to know what should be done. Those who listen and do what the Spirit leads them to do will be victorious (also translated “an overcomer”). Those whom are victorious will remain faithful to Christ no matter what the cost.
It is interesting to me to note that the Lord Jesus Himself will present the rewards. “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life”. Jesus Himself will grant the privilege. This teaches us how closely believers are connected to the Lord…not only here, but in eternity. Heaven will be a big place, there will be a lot of people there, but it will not be so big, nor will there be so many individuals…that Jesus will not have time for those individuals. Aren’t you glad that we are going there!
The word “paradise” means “Garden of Pleasure,” and that is exactly what God intended Eden to be. It would have been God’s great Garden of Pleasure for Adam and Eve had they not disobeyed God and listened to the devil. Remember what Jesus said to the other criminal on the cross… “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43)
In the Paradise of God (yet to come) there will be no tempter, no devil, no sin. It will be the Garden of Pleasure. The devil will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone (Revelation 20:10). While the close of verse 7 refers back to the tree of life from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24), God’s paradise refers to the future when God restores heaven and earth from the fall of humanity.
Love is a personal matter. We are saved one by one, we must be restored one by one. No hint is given that the entire Ephesian church responded favorably to this letter, but the hope is that
individuals would. Here is a fallen church. It too has lost the paradise of bliss which comes from walking with God. The Lord’s call here is a call to the individual believers to get back to the daily walk with Jesus Himself.
This letter to Ephesus ends with “he who has an ear” (Revelation 2:7), statement used throughout these letters to the churches. It means that if anyone understands the real meaning of what he or she hears, then he or she must respond. Many if not all churches still preach about the seven churches, simply as a warning. As warning was given to them, it is also given to this church age. It’s not too late, the has not returned, there is still time to repent. Trust in the Lord to receive forgiveness, trust in the Lord, the only One that can save you. And by being saved, Paradise awaits’ for the faithful!
6 Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place.
7 “Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
1 Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion—Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to the country of Moab and remained there. 3 Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left, and her two sons. 4 Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years. 5 Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband.
The book of Ruth is another good book to read. As…of course everything else in the Bible. The story of Ruth is a story of love, devotion, faithfulness, trust and redemption. The story of Ruth can teach us many things, especially the value of trusting God in our circumstance. This afternoon we will look into a sinful choice a husband made, which came with serious consequences that involved the whole family. I Recommend that you read the book of Ruth in order to get the full story.
It is said that "decisions determine destiny". Your life tomorrow will be the direct result of the decisions you make today. There will be consequences for each and every one of those decisions. These consequences may not be immediate, but they are inevitable, they will come.
If you choose to spend more money than you take in, eventually you will go bankrupt. If you choose to lazy at work, eventually you will find yourself unemployed. If you choose to eat too much, you will gain weight. If you choose to neglect your spouse, it may cost you your marriage. In the spiritual realm choices have eternal consequences. When our choices are sinful... there will be severe consequences! Just ask Noah, David, Samson, Elijah, The Children of Israel, The Apostles, and many, many others!
The book of Ruth tells us about the choices and consequences in the actions of a man named Elimelech and the impact that those choices had on his family. There was a famine in the land and he chose to take matters into his own hands instead of trusting God. His decision brought about a downward spiral of events that impacted each member of his family. There are many great truths to be found in the Book of Ruth and in the first 5 verses we will see a great lesson concerning people who choose to walk away from God. We can all relate with, “The Choices We Make”.
Elimelech's story illustrates the fact that "Sin will take you farther than you want to go, it will keep you longer than you want to stay and it will cost you far more than you want to pay". Let's walk through this portion of scripture and see the severe consequences of “The Choices We Make”.
Sometimes people know what is right…but they consciously choose to do what is wrong. This was true for Elimelech and unfortunately it is sometimes true in our lives as well. Let's take a moment and consider… The sinful choices that we make!
Why is it that people who belong to God can still make choices that are sinful? Unfortunately, there are many answers to this question. The reason for Elimelech’s sinful choice…
1 Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.
There was "a famine in the land." A famine is a shortage of food, lack of resources. Verse 1 says that these events took place during the time of the Judges. (Judges 21:25 – “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”)
This speaks of a time of lawlessness, idolatry, false religion, theft, drunkenness, homosexuality, sexual perversion, violence, and division. That sounds like a description of the times that we live in now! We live in a time when men and women “do what is right in their own eyes”. In our time…it is alright to live together without being married, it is ok to commit fornication and adultery, men can marry men and women can marry women. It is ok to get drunk and “have a good time…it is ok to partake in illegal drugs. Keep in mind, that anything mind altering is a form of sorcery in the Bible. In our time, it is ok to kill unborn babies. Though many think that it is perfectly fine to do these things, GOD SAYS THAT THEY ARE SIN and there are severe consequences for sinful choices.
Several times in the Bible, when God's people turned from Him, He would send a famine to their land as a means of discipline. Elimelech and his family were in the midst of one of those times of famine. As a result, Elimelech decided to take matters into his own hands. He chose to leave "Bethlehem-Judah" for the country of Moab. Bethlehem means “house of bread” and Judah means “praise.” Psalms 108:9 God described Moab as His "washpot". The idea here is that Moab was like a pot that was used to wash feet in. God is simply saying that Moab is a filthy place!
Even though there was a famine in Bethlehem, Elimelech should have stayed. This was the place that God had designed for Elimelech and his family. If he had remained, God would have taken care of them all. The Book of Ruth tells us about a close relative of Elimelech’s named Boaz. Boaz faced the same famine that Elimelech was facing and was sustained by the Lord. But trouble came and Elimelech left Bethlehem-Judah for Moab. Moab was located just across the Jordan River, east of the Promised Land. It was inhabited by people who worshiped pagan gods.
So…God did not want them there.
Elimelech did not take time to think about all that he would be leaving behind. In Bethlehem-Judah he could worship at the Temple, he could present his offerings to the Lord and he could keep the feasts that were commanded by the Law. In Moab he and his family were totally isolated from everything related to God. Elimelech took his family away from the things of the Lord and brought them into the midst of wickedness and evil.
When we face times of difficulty we often make decisions without consulting God. Sometimes we purposely… disobey God and go our own way. You may have faced a time of trouble and as a result you have walked away from God. Because of that decision you are now dwelling in a place of wickedness. You are far away from the things of God. I must warn you that there are severe consequences for sinful choices!
Do we even realize that our choices have an impact on those closest to us (Family) That was certainly the case for Elimelech, his sin had a devastating impact on his entire family. Notice if you will, the effect of his sinful choice….
The name of the man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion—Ephrathites of Bethlehem-Judah. And they went to the country of Moab and remained there.
“Ephrathites of Bethlehem-Judah”, meaning…a citizen of Ephratah, the old name of Bethlehem, or Bethlehem-Judah. So... from what we had just read, he brought along his family, with his sinful decision.
Elimelech had a wife named Naomi and they had two sons named Mahlon and Chilion. If you had asked Elimelech he would have told you that he made this move in order to help his family. We can’t really look down on the decision that he made. The land was in famine, he was worried about the welfare of his family. Any father would have made the same decision. His mistake was “disobedience”, he took matters into his own hands. The same thing can happen to us, if we…willfully disobey His commands, or make a decision without seeking His will. His choices had a devastating impact on his family. By the time the story is over Elimelech will be dead, Mahlon will be dead, Chilion will be dead! and Naomi will be devastated!
Things got rough and this man made a choice to flee the place that God had given him. He chose to go to a wretched land filled with pagans, wickedness and idol worship! He subjected his family to things that he should have been protecting them from!
If you are here today…you have professed faith in God, then you faced a period of difficulty, as a result you abandoned God and you have taken your family with that decision. You made a choice to flee the place that God put you in. You chose to go your own way and now you find yourself back in the world and away from God. Because of this you are subjecting your family to the very things that you should be protecting them from!
You may find that the consequences to sin are far greater than you had ever imagined. There are several truths concerning the consequences of sin that are revealed in this text. Notice that:
v2b went to the country of Moab and remained there. 3 Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left, and her two sons.
So…by staying in Moab, where God did not want them to be, this was the result. This family went from Bethlehem-Judah (the house of bread & praise) to Moab, a pagan land of wickedness. Elimelech likely intended to wait out the famine and then head back to Bethlehem-Judah. Though it seems he planned on a short stay in Moab but, v2 says that they “remained there”. Again…not where God wanted them to be.
Many have walked away from the Lord. They took matters into their own hands and instead of making things better, things got much worse. That is exactly what Elimelech did! The word "remained" in verse 2 literally means "to exist or to become." Elimelech's family became like the Moabites and if you "remain"…. to remain out in the world you will become more and more like the world!
But what did Jesus say about those that belongs to Him…
19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
James 4:4 (NIV)
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
You and I know that we need the Lord, we need to remain where He wants us be… to do what He has commanded us to do. If you have slipped off track, return to the Lord before it’s too late. Don’t remain in a place where God doesn’t want you to be. Each day you get farther and farther away from the Lord. You are learning the hard way that sin will take you farther than you want to go, and the consequences are severe.
Not only will sin take you farther than you want to go, we also see that, sin will keep you longer than you would want to stay…
Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years.
Elimelech took his family to Moab… then he died. Now his family is left to pick up the pieces without him. His sons, already immersed into the wicked culture of Moab by now, chose to marry women from Moab. This was a direct violation of the Mosaic Law. These men dwelled in the land of Moab for 10 years! This means that they were immersed in wickedness for the better part of a decade.
IF we are TRULY saved, the Holy Spirit will let us know when we begin to drift away from God. The Holy Spirit will convict you of your sins and reveal to you that you need to return to the Father! You also know that you need to do something about it. And I have no doubt that some of you here today have every intention of making things right...eventually! Let me encourage you to take those steps to get back to God today, especially…since we will be partaking in the Lords Supper, because if you don't there will be a price to pay.
You see, not only will sin take you farther than you want to go, and keep you longer than you want to stay...sin will cost you more than you would like to pay…
Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband.
Elimelech, Mahlon & Chilion all died and now Naomi is devastated. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law were left desolate. In that society, the poorest of the poor were widows with no children to care for them. These women were left with nothing but desolation, discouragement and defeat. The consequences that Naomi had to endure were severe. Sadly, this devastating situation can all be traced back to one sinful choice that her husband made. And that one sinful choice bread another and another and another.
You will notice that Elimelech didn't jump right into grave sin. We are not told that he worshipped idols. He didn't get involved in adultery. He wasn't a thief or a murderer. It seems that he was a loving family man who wanted to provide for his wife and children. But the problem was that he was willing to walk away from God to do it.
Elimelech was a man whose name means "God is my King" but he did not trust God to protect and provide for him in the midst of troubling time. So, he took matters into his own hands. He did what was right in his own sight and the consequences of his rebellion were severe!
One of the saddest parts of this story is when you realize how simple the solution to his problem was. All Elimelech had to do was turn around and go back to "the house of praise" (Bethlehem). For those who have made a decision similar to Elimelech, that is the answer for you as well. If you have walked away from the Lord, simply turn around (repent) and return to the One who loves you, gave His life for you. (Jesus)
Church…nobody in here can live a perfect life. That is why we will always need Jesus. I don’t know your circumstances right now, but I do know that He (Jesus) does. If you are in a place of “Moab”, in your life…let this message be a guide and a lesson for you. Before we take matters into our own hands…regardless that we may think it’s right, it may not be what God wants for us. And again…the consequences may be severe! These are the result of, “The Choices We Make”.
Pastor Richard Santos
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