So far we’ve seen the outward religion of Ephesus who needed to repent and regain their first love, the suffering of Smyrna who’s noted leader Polycarp has provided an example for us all, and the church at Pergamos thriving in the midst of Emperor worship, though with some who had compromised with the world.
Thyatira: Compromising with the world for the sake of money
In The Revelation 2: 18-29 we again have the Lord’s rebuke for compromising with the world. Thyatira’s compromise was to a greater degree than Pergamos because at least there, the threat was immediate death. But in Thyatira persecution was not as intense, and some believers compromised just to make money.
Just 38 miles (61km) from Pergamos we find the city on the river Hermus, along a main trading route. It was home to the cult of Apollo and the center for the dyeing of indigo fabric. It was also the leading city for guilds, the forerunners of modern labor unions.
The guilds were incorporated and could own property in the city, and two of the larger guilds were coppersmiths and dyers. Lydia in Philippi was from Thyatira we are told, and was a seller of purple (Acts 16: 14-15). I have speculated that perhaps she left Thyatira for Philippi due to the need to compromise with the guilds in order to do business, and found she could import the purple fabric to Philippi. We don’t know, one day we can ask her.
In nearly any business contract in the city, a person had to involve a guild. Upon striking a deal, the two individuals would go to the temple for the god or goddess associated with that guild, and make sacrifice to the idol and then have sex (man or woman) with a temple prostitute to ‘seal the deal’ and pray it would be a ‘fertile’ contract. The temple prostitutes danced around a pole made into a phallic symbol, the ancient forerunner to pole dancing women in strip clubs – same pole in spirit.
There was a woman in the church the Lord nicknamed ‘Jezebel’ for she preached compromise like the real Jezebel (Ahab’s wife) did. It would be like in modern times signing a contract and then going to a strip club to become involved with one of the dancers there – and say it’s okay to do that even though you are a Christian, God wants you to make money and be blessed so He overlooks it. Wrong, the Lord said to them.
In 2:20 the Lord says He gave her ‘space to repent’ but she did not. She knows what she is doing, she knows what she is preaching and her prophecies are wrong – but she continues anyway. The Lord in so many words says He is removing His hand of grace if she doesn’t repent with this last opportunity, and they will experience the consequences of their actions: Sickness and pain.
What I find interesting is that His promise to those who have not compromised and those who repent of their compromising, will be allowed to rule nations. There is a direct connection in that now in this life they have the backbone to stand against sin, against compromise, so are found worthy to rule over others in the future – they have lived it, they know how to walk with God against the opinions and temptations of others. He promises to give them the ‘morning star’, which is how the Lord describes Himself in The Revelation 22: 16, so He promises to give them Himself as they overcome opportunities to compromise which is all around them.
Sardis: The dead church
The city is 32 miles from Pergamos (51km) on the river Pactolus, which in ancient times had golden sand – a gold rush made the city wealthy, and the capital of ancient Lydia in the 500’s BC. The world’s very first gold and silver coins were made there, so it was an impressive city.
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write,
‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. 3Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. 4Youhave a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
6“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”‘
The city had an upper and lower part, and when an enemy came they would climb up the cliffs to the top by a secret path, and no one could reach them. They were only conquered 2x, when enemy guards below watched someone from the upper city descend the path, inadvertently giving their secret away. The entire population was asleep both times, and it is to their history the Lord refers, telling them they are spiritually asleep
Historical note: They were so confident they could not be defeated that neither time had they even posted guards. Sardis was like that spiritually. Not ‘on guard’ or valuing their salvation and walk with the Lord. They ignored what they had, thinking they were set for eternity.
He says in name they are Christian, but in fact they are not. Spiritually there are a few truly born again, and He encourages them to strengthen what they have. He threatens the same fate their city suffered before – coming as a thief in the night, not knowing when He will come.
Paul used the same terminology earlier, which they would have known, when he wrote to the Thessalonians. In I Thessalonians 5:2 Paul says the rapture will appear to unbelievers as the Lord coming like a thief in the night to steal that which doesn’t belong to Him. Here the Lord uses that metaphor to point out they are unbelievers, or on the edge of walking away from Him. In verse 5 He says to those who overcome – repent and start walking with Him – He will not blot their names out of the Book of the Living. He would not have said that unless it were possible they could have their names erased from the Book of the Living.
That phrase, the Book of the Living, is Jewish, which 1st century readers would have understood. Judaism teaches that on the blowing of the last trumpet at the Feast of Trumpets, books are opened, including the Book of Remembrance and the Book of the Living, and others – all records of the living and the dead.
For those who think once saved always saved, this and other verses show that folly. That said, it was a decision that got you saved, and it takes another decision to get you ‘unsaved’.
We’ve seen Ephesus who once had a zeal that caused a riot, faithful Smyrna with its leader Polycarp, Pergamos struggling with compromise and the rise in man-made hierarchy of the Nicolaitanes, compromising Thyatira who had a woman giving false teaching and false prophecies saying the Lord was fine with going to the pagan temples and prostitutes because the Lord wants to bless them financially, and Sardis, mostly dead, at least asleep in the light, and a cautionary tale for our day.
There is something for everyone in the 5 we’ve covered so far. What I find interesting is that each city’s body of Christ was unique with its own issues, good things, and troubles. We find the same in our network of house churches, and in any auditorium church as well – each church is unique, each within a culture of a city or nation that provides challenges for the Christian.
With each church the Lord urges humility, repentance, a seriousness about one’s faith and walk with Him. And what I find especially true to this day, He has little patience for those who call themselves Christian while teaching and prophesying compromise with the world. Next week, the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, and Laodecia, the ones who thought because they were so blessed financially it was God’s blessing and they had need of nothing.
As I said, something for everyone…until next week! Blessings,