A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
As the Roman Empire grew in prominence, Rome soon became the world's center for the practices and traditions of the Babylonian pagan religion. Pergamum slowly faded from the scene, but the mixed marriage of Christianity and Paganism begun there has produced four offspring, Roman Catholics (Thyatira), Main Line Protestants (Sardis), Evangelicals including Pentecostals and Charismatics (Philadelphia) and the Apostate Church (Laodicea). All are alive on Earth today.
To the Church in Thyatira
"To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: Thyatira means continual sacrifice. (In the Catholic Church, the Lord is still on the cross, and they believe that the communion wafer becomes His actual body and blood as it's consumed.) It's the first letter with a future in view, which led me to the conclusion that the earlier three churches are gone. It's also the first whose members are divided into two categories, the saved and the unsaved.
(Title) These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. It couldn't be clearer. While born of the Virgin, the One speaking to them with fire in His eyes is to be addressed as the Son of God, not of Mary.
(Commendation) I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. The Catholic Church is known for its efforts in bringing mercy and compassion, as well as the Gospel, to God's children.
(Criticism) Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. The title "Queen of Heaven" by which many Catholics refer to Mary, was first used of Semeramis, wife of Nimrod the founder of Babylon, and mother of Tammuz. Semeramis declared herself a goddess, claimed that Tammuz was born of a supernatural conception involving the Sun god, and began the first counterfeit religion, a mother-child cult.
According to legend, while out hunting one day Tammuz was killed by a wild animal. Semeramis mourned for 40 days at the end of which Tammuz was raised from the dead. A celibate priesthood was formed and the chief priest was declared infallible. The 40 day mourning (now called Lent), the Yule log, evergreen tree, mistletoe and hot cross buns were all used in rituals commemorating the event, and the mother-child cult was begun.
Later the Romans adapted these to the death and re-birth of the Sun at the winter solstice, but in the 4th century the traditions surrounding Semeramis and Tammuz were attributed to Mary and Jesus and came almost unchanged into Catholicism, where they remain to this day.
Semeramis is symbolically called Jezebel in the letter, leading people away from the truth into idolatry. But the real Jezebel is also in view here. She was a daughter of the King of Phonecia, a pagan princess best known for her advice to her Israelite husband King Ahab on how to obtain a vineyard he wanted. She brought trumped up charges against the vineyard's owner, hired witnesses to bear false testimony, and had him convicted and executed. Then she confiscated the vineyard in the name of the King. Centuries later the Catholic Church would obtain much of its wealth in the same way. Fortunes beyond measure were gained during these inquisitions.
Jezebel was also the patron of the 400 priests of Baal who Elijah slew on Mt. Carmel. The Lord views idolatry as infidelity and Jezebel had encouraged the worship of Baal, leading the people into spiritual adultery. The many saints to whom some Catholics pray, and the sacramental works they must perform to attain and keep their salvation are not scriptural and deny the sufficiency of the cross. For these reasons the Catholic Church is often called the "plus religion." Jesus plus Mary. Grace plus works. The Scripture plus tradition. Giving glory for the works of God to anyone else is spiritual adultery, and subjects the giver to severe punishment.
(Admonition) So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. Those who insist upon being judged by their works will be granted their wish. Sadly the emphasis on these religious works has clouded the true message of the gospel to the extent that some life-long Catholics never come to know the Lord on a personal basis. The Lord will judge them according to the motives of their hearts. Are their good works performed out of gratitude for the free gift of salvation He offers, or they done in a futile effort to earn it on their own?
(Call) Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come. Others will have seen through the layers of traditions and works and saints and rituals and found the face of the Lord looking back at them. Those who do and cling tenaciously to Him will have their reward.
(Promise) To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations 'He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery - just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star. They'll join Him on His throne as co-regent of the universe, the Bride of Christ, His beloved church.
We're not in the church because of the pew we occupy, or the name over the door, or the good works we do. We're in the church because we've believed by faith that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Cor 15:3-4)
(Challenge) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Even after we're saved by Grace, we all have our lists of do's and don'ts. We derive our self- image as a believer from our adherence to this list, judging others by how well they keep our commandments. When we fail, we fall back on God's grace, but we don't really feel good about ourselves until we're obeying our list again and we always insist upon justice for everyone else who fails. We forget that grace plus works equals works. The two are like oil and water, they don't mix. To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4:5)
The only negative experience we had in our entire visit to the sites of the seven churches in Turkey took place in Thyatira, called Akhisar today. After a friendly and helpful guard opened the site where the church once stood for us and gave us material that explained what we were looking at, we left to find some lunch thinking how pleasant our time there had been. Down the street, we spotted an open-air shop where a vendor was selling the barbecued chicken sandwiches that are so popular in Turkey, and that we had come to enjoy as well.
Waiting for our sandwiches, we were approached by a man who appeared to hold some position of authority. His manner was most unfriendly, and his questions conveyed an air of suspicion. We left there quickly wondering if he was a policeman, a government agent, or an official from a religion unfriendly to Christians. Driving away we also discovered our food was not edible. The chicken was bad, as if the innards hadn't been removed before cooking. Re-reading the letter to Thyatira we were struck by the contrasts between good and evil, in the letter and in our visit.
The Kingdom Parable that resembles the Letter to Thyatira is the Parable of the Leaven where a woman wrongly mixed leaven into three measures of meal. Leaven, or yeast, always symbolizes sin and traditionally three measures of meal is the fellowship offering. (Sin in the fellowship. Get it?) Paul's letter to the Galatians fits too and can be summed up in the first three verses of chapter 3. You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
To the Church in Sardis
"To the angel of the church in Sardis write: Sardis means remnant. As He did in the Letter to Thyatira, the Lord distinguishes between the lost and the saved (the remnant) in Sardis. The church in Sardis represents the Protestant Reformation. When Luther and others led the way out of Catholicism, it was in search of truth. The Catholics had distorted God's word into something it was never intended to be, adding to the Scriptures and imposing heavy spiritual burdens on their followers.
The call of the reformation was "Sola fides (only through faith), sola gratia (Only by grace), solus Christus (only with Christ), and sola Scriptura (Only His Word)."
(Title) These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. The Lord reminds the Church in Sardis just Who is writing to them. He is the Giver of the Holy Spirit, and the Guardian of the angel who shepherds them.
(Criticism) I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Jesus told the woman at the well, "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:24) In their quest for the truth, the Protestants neglected the things of the Spirit and for several hundred years almost never heard the rustlings of the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God) in their midst. When the Great Awakening of the late 1800's and early 1900's brought the Gifts of the Spirit into the open again, they rejected the idea, giving birth first to the Pentecostal and then the Charismatic movements.
(Admonition) Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. When the German School of Higher Criticism invaded their seminaries with its godless theories about the "real" authorship of the Bible and the Modern Rationalists they spawned explained away its miracles, there was no Spiritual discernment to resist them. And so, having earlier rejected the Spirit, they now lost the Truth as well.
(Call) Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. As is the case in Thyatira, there remains but a remnant who are saved. The rest, having worked so hard to make God small enough to fit in their minds, now find Him too small to meet their needs. They will be among the most surprised to find themselves left behind as End Times events unfold. (Notice, the Lord doesn't promise to come for them, but to them.)
(Promise) He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. But to the believing remnant He will bring the white robes of the righteousness that comes by faith, and will be pleased to introduce them to His Father as members of God's Forever Family.
(Challenge) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. There are two extremes in Christianity. The dead orthodoxy of main line Protestantism, and the "zeal without knowledge" of Charismania. Too great a focus on either will cause the loss of both spirit and truth.
The most significant site in Sardis today is the huge abandoned synagogue and gymnasium (school). As I stood there I was reminded how the protestant church has abandoned its Jewish roots and ignores the Old Testament, even doubting its veracity. Having learned what the Lord did from their New Testament but not understanding why He did it because they've never read the Old, they've lost the last of the meaning that once validated their theology. It's become form without substance.
The Parable of the Treasure in the Field describes the Church in Sardis. Upon discovering buried treasure in a vacant field, the Lord bought the whole field just to get the treasure. For God so loved the (whole) world that He gave His only son, that who so ever believed ... The pardon purchased with His blood is available to everyone in Sardis, but only a remnant will accept it. Paul's Letter to the Romans, the "Gospel according to Paul" is his contribution to our understanding.
These two children defined Christianity until the 1800's when the Lord again did a remarkable thing and the Church was born again in the 3rd child of Pergamus. More next time.