One Sunday morning many Sundays ago, a man named John saw Jesus. And what he saw, he recorded, and what he recorded has tantalized seekers of Christ for two thousand years.
Picture the scene with me. John is getting rather elderly - maybe 90+ years old. He is the last of the original 12 apostles still living. Out on the craggy island, he is probably brown by the sun. His feet and hands are rough and callused. John wasn't just sitting around, writing the book of Revelation. As a political prisoner, he was part of a work crew. He was laboring in the mines and quarries of Patmos. In your mind, picture John as he carries granite chips from the cliffs above to a dock on the beach beneath. I can imagine John, stumbling under the loaded straw basket strapped to his forehead, hanging down his back. He balances it there, and uses both hands to grasp his staff and pick his way down the trail.
Imagine John on this Sunday at the beach. He has come here to worship. The wind stirs the cattails and waves slap against the sand. John sees nothing but water. It may be only a few miles to the coast of the mainland, but, for John, it might as well be an ocean, for it separates him from his home.
But no amount of water could separate him from Christ. Revelation 1, verses 10-11, record these words:
Revelation 1:10-11 NIV
10 On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet,
11 which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."
Notice the voice has come from behind him. John is about to turn and see Jesus. Of course this isn't his first time to see his Savior. You and I only read about hands that fed the thousands. Not John - he saw them - knuckled fingers, callused palms. He saw them. You and I only read about the feet that was able to walk a path through the waves. Not John! John saw them - sandaled, ten-toed, and sometimes dirty. You and I only read about his eyes - his piercing eyes, his fiery eyes, his weeping eyes. Not so with John. John saw them -- gazing on the crowds, dancing with laughter, searching for souls. John had seen Jesus.
For more that three years he had followed Christ. But this encounter was far different from any in Galilee. This time the image is so vivid - the impression is so powerful, that shortly after he turns, what he sees causes John to fall at his feet as dead. Let's read the entire encounter.
Revelation 1:12-17 NIV
12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands,
13 and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.
14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.
15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.
16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.
It is interesting to notice the stages through which John passed in receiving this revelation. In Revelation 1:10, he says "I heard." In 1:12, "I turned." Also in 1:12, "I saw." And in 1:17, "I fell."
If anyone knew what Jesus looked like, it was John. He had spent years with him, almost every moment for more than 3 years.
While John falls at the feet of Jesus as though he were dead, this does not mean that he did not recognize Jesus. He calls Jesus the "Son of Man." This is a phrase used 88 times in the New Testament, all of them speaking about Christ. Of those 88 times the "Son of Man" phrase is used in the New Testament, 84 come from the lips of Jesus Himself. Let me give you an example.
Luke 12:40 KJV (Jesus speaking about his return)
40 Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.
So, there is no doubt that John recognized his Lord. Why would seeing Jesus this time cause him to collapse as dead before the Lord. Was there something different about Jesus. John gives us a vision of Christ to ponder - a vision that comes at you from all angles. Swords and bronze feet….and white hair, like wool…..and sunlight. What are we to make of these images? And why was John so affected? And will we be affected similarly if we see what John saw?
I believe a vision of the glorified Christ will always drive us to our knees. Let me put it this way. When we compare ourselves with others, we can always seem respectable. But when we see ourselves in comparison to Him - we are shaken to our roots. The closer we get to the light, the more the dirt of our own heart is exposed.
Earlier, when we read verses 10 & 11, John is told to write what he sees, and send it to the 7 churches of Asia.
IS THERE ANY SIGNIFICANCE ON WHY THESE CHURCHES WERE TO RECEIVE THE BOOK WRITTEN BY JOHN?
IS THERE ANY SIGNIFICANCE IN THE ORDER IN WHICH THESE CHURCHES ARE GIVEN?
The fact that Jesus chose these 7 churches to be the recipient of what John was asked to write, is probably significant in that there were other strong churches functioning in the area. There were churches in Antioch of Pisidia, Derbe, Iconium, Lystra, Miletus, Heirapolis, Colossae and Troas. These are all located in Asia Minor. And there were many other churches in Greece, Macedonia, Cappadocia, Galatia and Pontus. These churches were also maintaining a positive spiritual witness of the gospel. The fact that Jesus chose the seven churches He did and not others would seem to be significant.
Also, as we have noted before, the use of the number "7" in the Bible and specifically in Revelation also seems to indicate something.
When one considers the order in which these churches are listed, there are a number of proposed reasons given over the centuries for the sequence.
They are given in the order in which a courier would travel to take the letters.
Although the city and church of Miletus is closer to the island of Patmos, if one went there first, they would then travel 50 miles overland to Ephesus, the closest of the 7 cities to Miletus. If one wanted to use the most expeditious route, one would probably sail to the closest of the seven cities. Ephesus is the first and is the closest seaport of the 7 churches when coming from Patmos. The courier would then head due north to the city of Smyrna. Although Smyrna was also a good seaport in that day, traveling by foot might be the most time-saving route, because to go by sea requires to navigate around a point of land jutting out some 60 miles.
The next city - Pergamum - is north and slightly east. Then to go to the fourth city - Thyatira - the message carrier would head southeast. Heading further southeast, one would reach the city of Sardis. East-southeast from Sardis is the city of Philadelphia. The 7th city - Laodicea - is still further southeast, and is due east of Ephesus, the first city. At that time there was a natural trade route between Laodicea and Ephesus. John R. W., Stott calls the trade routes linking all 7 of these cities an "irregular circle."
The Pattern of Christ's message to each church
Christ uses a consistent pattern or design structure to compose His message to each church.
1. He begins each letter with a greeting.
2. He gives a different description of Himself to each church.
3. He makes an observation - the character traits of the specific church.
4. A Commendation is given - if applicable (No commendation to Laodicea)
5. A condemnation or rebuke is given - if applicable (No rebuke to Smyrna or Philadelphia).
6. Christ presents each church with a warning
7. The warning is followed by a call to hear - an exhortation
8. He gives each church a promise if His words are heeded
In Revelation 2 & 3 we find a stack of letters, seven in all. These seven letters to seven churches are powerful letters and they burn with urgency. Their message is still as vital and timely today as when first written.
The churches are named for the city in which they reside. The churches (cities) are named first in Revelation 1:11. Then in chapters 2 & 3, we find 7 letters written specifically to each of these congregations. They are given in the same order in which we found them in Revelation 1:11.
Revelation 1:11 NKJV
11 "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last," and, "What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea."
In each of the 7 letters, Jesus Christ passes a moral judgment upon the church concerned.
o Two of these churches are commended without any rebuke - Smyrna and Philadelphia.
o To the church in Laodicea he expressed unrelieved condemnation.
o 5 churches had sin and they were told that repentance was needed.
o In one case - Ephesus - repentance had to be forthcoming or they would loose their lampstand.
o The church at Thyatira had works, love, service, and faith. However, they also allowed false teaching and immorality. A similar situation existed in the church at Pergamum.
o To the church in Sardis, Christ more rebukes them than praises them.
o The letters to Ephesus, Pergamum and Thyatira finds approval and disapproval somewhat even.
It is clear that the risen Lord is in a position to evaluate the condition of each church. He knows their state with perfect accuracy. The reason He knows their state and is in a position to evaluate each church is because He continually walks among the churches (Revelation 1:20 & 2:1). Christ is the divine overseer of the churches. Did He not say "where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:20). Christ visits His people. He dwells with them. He walks among them. He inspects them. He knows them.
Today we begin looking at the third of the 7 churches of Asia Minor, as mentioned in Revelation. The church at Pergamum. The city of Pergamum still exists under the Turkish name of Bergama - population of 55,000. The city has 15 mosques…two churches…and one synagogue, and approximately 25% of the residents profess to be Christians.
If you use a King James, New King James or Living Bible, you will notice this city is called Pergamos. All others that I have say Pergamum. Pergamum is the neuter form of Pergamos, the feminine form of the name of the city. Both names were used, but Pergamum was the more common.
The city of Pergamum is located almost 50 miles north of Smyrna. Unlike Ephesus and Smyrna, Pergamum was not a seaport, but was located about 15 miles from the Aegean Sea. It was not the city of trade that Ephesus and Smyrna were, but it was definitely the cultural center of Asia, and had been its capital for more than 400 years.
Unlike some of the other six cities, Pergamum has extensive ruins, over a wide area. Next to Ephesus, Pergamum is the best preserved archeologically. The ruins at Pergamum are in two parts - almost two cities. The one - the acropolis - looking down over the city, and the other looking up to the acropolis. I will speak of the temple in the valley in a moment.
The acropolis rises nearly a thousand feet above the valley, and more than a dozen temples, shrines and altars crowned its top. The name "Pergamum" means "citadel," which aptly describes the acropolis. Here is a picture from the valley looking towards the acropolis. Let me point out some sites I will show you up close in the next few minutes.
Altar of Zeus
This structure is one of four dedicated to a Greek deity. Here is a reconstructed picture of how the original looked like. This altar was about 40 feet high and 90 feet square. It was constructed by Eumenes II (197-159 BC), after the death of Attalus II as a memorial of the victory against the Galatians. This altar was the largest and most famous in the world at that time.
Let me say here that many of the great artifacts of Pergamum were taken to Berlin in the late 19th century. A German engineer, Karl Humann, discovered the ruins of the altar in 1871, and had its pieces removed and taken to Berlin. In Berlin, there is a Pergamum Museum. Here is a picture of the front of this altar as seen in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin.
In Revelation 2:13, Christ tells the people in this church at Pergamum: "I know where you live - where Satan has his throne." Could it have reference to this altar to Zeus? We will discuss this more as we begin to examine the biblical text.
Temple of Dionysus
This is another temple to a Greek deity. I know of at least one writer who believes this temple is where Satan had his throne.
Temple of Trajan
Trajan was the Roman emperor from 98 to 117 AD, and was probably the emperor at the time of the apostle John's death. It is one of the largest of all temples on the acropolis, and would not have been here during the time of John.
This theater was built in the 3rd century B.C., held almost 15,000 people and is said to be one of the steepest outdoor theaters in the world. The top row of seats is 100 feet in elevation above the stage. Here is a model of what the Pergamum acropolis probably looked like during the time of Paul. Here is another model from a slightly different angle.
Pergamum was known for three major things during the first century.
1. Their library
2. Their invention of parchment
3. Their medical center.
Let me show you another view of part of the reconstructed acropolis. Here is Trajan's temple. He is the theater. Here is the temple to Athena. And here is the library. Pergamum's huge library was second only to that of Alexandria, Egypt. It contained 200,000 handwritten volumes. It was located on the acropolis to the north of the temple of Athena.
The story is documented that, during the 3rd century BC, the ruler of Pergamum sought to lure Aristophanes of Byzantium, the librarian at Alexandria, to their city, to expand their library. Ptolemy, the ruler in Egypt at that time, became incensed that someone would try to take his scholarly librarian. He then imposed an embargo of all shipment of papyrus to Pergamum. Egypt was the only source for papyrus.
As they say, "necessity is the mother of invention," and Pergamum needed another writing material if they were going to expand the library. They developed a technique to smooth and polish tanned animal skins resulting in what was called Pergamum material (He-pergamene charta - the Pergamene sheet),or, in Latin, parchment (vellum). And, eventually, parchment completely replaced the need for papyrus. And, as I said a moment ago, this was the second of 3 things Pergamum was known for.
Their Medical Center
The third thing Pergamum was noted for was their medical center. I have been showing you a picture of the acropolis from the valley below. Here is a reverse picture, showing the layout of the valley ruins. When I returned from our trip, I did not show you any pictures of these ruins. This is where the medical center was located.
This area is called the Aesclepion, after the Greek god, Aesclepius - the god of healing. This city was dedicated to this god, and many of their coins had his depiction on them. In the picture of this coin, Aesclepius is holding a staff near his leg, and it has a snake entwined around it. Many Pergamene coins were also struck with serpent encircling a rod. This is very much like the symbol of the medical profession to this day. Here is a picture of a partial column in the Aesclepion with a serpent entwined around it.
At the Aesclepion, various treatments and procedures were given, some of them very experimental. One section of this medical center was for psychological needs. Hot an cold baths were available. There were different water cures for psychological patients. There is a theater where drama is used as part of the healing process. They would be sent through a long tunnel as they contemplated their illnesses. The doctors would secretly observe their patients through opening above, sometimes speaking encouraging words as they walked. You can see where the openings are in this picture.
As a last resort, they put you in the temple at night to have you lie on the ground. They were turn loose non-poisonous snakes, and if one of the snakes crawled over you or touched you, it was as if Aesclepius himself touched you and you were healed.
In the Bible, of the 7 cities, Pergamum is one of four that are mentioned only in the Book of Revelation.
DO YOU KNOW THE OTHER THREE ONLY FOUND IN REVELATION?
Smyrna, Sardis and Philadelphia
Here at New Life Church, how you and I personally feel about our church is important. There are a multitude of reasons why you come to this church and continue to come.
o It might be because it is convenient.
o Maybe you like the worship style.
o You might enjoy the music.
o Or you might say, "this church meets my needs."
o Maybe its because of the youth or children's programs.
o Or it could be the preaching of the Word
Yes, how you and I think about the Church we attend is important.
But there is Another who's opinion ranks higher than yours or mine. What does Jesus think of New Life Church. Isn't that what's ultimately more important? What does Christ think of our church? What kind of church does Christ want New Life to be in 2007? What does Jesus want us to do and be? And it is His opinion of each of the 7 churches we are examining.
As we go through our study of the 7 churches of the book of Revelation, I believe Christ is creating a mosaic of what He wants our church to look like. It is a mosaic that can be a guide and a guard to any church, in any place, at any time, in history. As we continue to study these 7 churches, we will seriously consider what God expects His church to be. Each of the seven churches represents a particular church in a real place in Asia Minor. They also represent different types of churches throughout the history of the church.
• One of the churches is a dead church. Many dead churches exist today.
• Another church is a missionary church. Such churches exist today.
• Another church is a church where love grew cold. There are many churches today where love has grown cold.
• Yet another church has allowed the philosophies of the world to make inroads. Such churches do exist today.
Each of these churches is characteristic of particular types of churches in any age. These churches are also characteristic of particular types of Christians.
Unfortunately there are also people who are near spiritual death, doing very little good for the kingdom of God. Also, there are Christians who are zealous missionaries. There are Christians whose love has grown cold. Some Christians have also allowed the world's philosophy to take root in their lives.
The seven churches are historical, but they have tremendous importance for the church of Christ today because they reveal the qualities that make up the church. They represent all types of churches and Christians.
If New Life Church is going to have the vision for being the church that Christ wants, that vision must flow out of the will and opinion of Christ Himself, and that means it must flow out of the Word of God. Let's see if we can begin to catch a glimpse of that vision this morning.
Let's turn to Revelation 2 and begin exploring what Christ said to the church in Pergamum. As I read the verses 12 through 17, I will fill in the 8 parts of the pattern I mentioned last week. This pattern is followed in all seven letters to these churches.
Revelation 2:12-17 NIV
12 To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
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.
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.
13 I know your work and 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.
14 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.
15 Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you 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.
There are so many thoughts that could be addressed in these 6 verses. Many questions could be answered here.
1. Who is the message from?
2. What is meant by "the angel"?
3. How does Jesus know their works?
4. What characteristics of this church are known and praised by Christ?
5. What is the claim Christ has against this church. How are they to correct the situation?
6. What does the call to repentance mean? What are the consequences of not repenting?
7. What is meant when Christ refers to the two-edged sword?
8. What is the promise to the overcomer? And how does one become an overcomer?
9. How does Christ regard compromising with ungodly factions?
10. Who was Antipas and why did he die?
11. What is the "hidden manna?"
12. What is the "white stone" with a new name on it?
13. How does this message from Christ to Pergamum apply to our church? How does it apply to me personally?
There is a lot to think about as we go through these 6 verses. Let's begin going through the message of this letter. In our next lesson, we will begin examining the text found in Revelation 2:12-17. Let's find out what Christ spoke to them that also applies to us.