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May 25, 2008

# 10: For the next few weeks I'll be posting on Revelation 2:1-3:22

(Notice- Copyright Dr. Gregory J. Laughery - 2008)

For the next few weeks I'll be posting on Revelation 2:1-3:22 - the Seven Letters to the Churches - out of my new book Living Apocalypse: A Revelation Reader and A Guide for the Perplexed.

The Letter to Laodicea ( 3:14 -22)

Introduction

Laodicea was one of the wealthiest cities of its day. An example of the city’s immense wealth was the city’s refusal, after almost complete destruction by earthquake, of imperial aid to rebuild; they could afford to do it themselves. This city was known for its banks, its wool and textile industry which produced a special black wool, and for its medical school which developed an ear ointment and an eye salve.

Despite all its wealth, Laodicea was not completely self-sufficient. It seems that because of its location, the city was dependent on others for its water. The water was piped in through an aqueduct system that was fairly efficient for its day, but the quality of some of the water was less than desirable. As we study the letter it is important to keep these details in mind.


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May 18, 2008

# 9: For the next few weeks I'll be posting on Revelation 2:1-3:22

The Letter to Philadelphia (3:7-13)

Introduction


Philadelphia was a smaller and more recently developed city than any of the other seven cities addressed in these letters. Because of its location it is often called the ‘gateway to the East.’ It was a fairly rich city with much productive agricultural land and some industry. Although destroyed by an earthquake, as was much of the region surrounding it in 17 CE, it was quickly rebuilt through imperial aid and its people remained loyal to the emperor. Temples dedicated to the imperial cult as well as many pagan gods were in prominence and Christians in this city were in a similar situation to the others John has already addressed.

Text


(7) The words of this letter are from “he who is holy and true.” The risen Christ, as in the previous letters, addresses the church. Christ himself is called the Holy One. This was a common title used for God in the Old Testament and here it affirms Christ’s deity. He is also the True One, an affirmation of his complete reliability. The One who is holy and true holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut and what he shuts no one can open. This is a loose reference to Isaiah 22:22-25 and is likely to refer to the fact that Christ, who is holy and true, exercises authority over whoever enters the new Jerusalem, the proverbial dwelling place of God. We may also have a polemic against the Jews who were persecuting Christians in Philadelphia and seemingly attempting to exclude them from the household of God.


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May 13, 2008

# 8: For the next few weeks I'll be posting on Revelation 2:1-3:22

(Notice- Copyright Dr. Gregory J. Laughery - 2008) 

The Letter to Sardis (3:1-6)
 
Introduction
          
This ancient city was built on a steep hill and was known for its past wealth and commerce. In Sardis there were temples dedicated to Artemis and to Cybele, a goddess thought to have the power to bring the dead to life.
A secluded city, Sardis tended to lack vigilance as it was twice captured by enemies for failing to post guards at the city walls, an interesting parallel to the problem in the church. Seclusion often produces complacency, just as embracing the world produces compromise.
Many churches today are similar to this city. Attempts to seclude and separate proliferate, while there is a wholesale failure to post guards at hearts, minds and imaginations, which are deeply entrenched in worldly ways.
 
Text
 
(1-3) These words are spoken by the One who has the ‘seven spirits of God.’ This phrase, as understood back in 1:4, symbolizes the Holy Spirit (see also Zech. 4:1-10; Rev. 5:6). The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches (see 1:20 ).
The risen Christ knows the deeds of the church in Sardis . Their reputation is one of being alive, but in reality the community is dead. There may have been some evidence of life, but in verses 2-3 they are told with five imperatives that it is not sufficient. They were commanded to “Be watchful,” “strengthen what remains,” “remember what was received and heard,” “keep it,” and “repent.” Their lives were characterized by a lack of completion, constantly falling short of full commitment and vigilance. They needed to turn from their complacency and re-orient their lives.
If the church at Sardis is not watchful they are warned that Christ will come to them in judgement. This probably should be thought of as present judgement, even though ‘the thief coming’ is a reference to final judgement in several contexts. Often in the Apocalypse this kind of language can refer to a visitation of judgement in the present, typologically prefiguring the final judgement. In any case, the second coming will come whether the church is watchful or not, and this seems to confirm the previous interpretation of a present judgment in this context.
(4) The word used here is ‘yet’ or ‘nevertheless.’ This time it is not an introduction to what Christ has against the church, but rather an affirmation that there are some in the church who have not accommodated to the general laxness regarding pagan attitudes, lifestyles, and the church’s half-hearted commitment to Christ. Those who have not adopted this way of life, but have held on to Christ wholeheartedly will walk with him dressed in white, a reference to those justified. Following the crucified and risen One is a task and joy that demands loyalty and faithfulness. “For they are worthy” refers to their justification through the work of Christ and to the fact that they have not done anything to jeopardize that position.
(5-6) There are three promises to those who overcome. First, they are promised to be dressed in white, or ‘justified’ before God (7:9, 10, 13-17). Second, the ones who overcome are never to be blotted out of the book of life; in other words, he/she has everlasting life. Third, is the promise that Christ will acknowledge their names before his Father and the angels. “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.”

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May 04, 2008

# 7: For the next few weeks I'll be posting on Revelation 2:1-3:22

(Notice- Copyright Dr. Gregory J. Laughery - 2008)

The Letter to Thyatira ( 2:18 -29)


Introduction

Thyatira was the least known and least remarkable of all the cities in the letters. The city was rather plain, not having the visual splendor or character of the others. The words of the letter are addressed to a developing church in a growing city, neither of which had gained the prominence of Ephesus .

We learn from the ancient inscriptions that Thyatira was a manufacturing center comprising wool and garment workers, potters, dyers, tanners, and bronze smiths. From these inscriptions we also learn that trade guilds, or what we might today call trade unions, were set up for the craftspeople. These guilds played a major role in the life of the city.

Trade was so important to the Thyatirans that they even had their own god, Tyrimnos, who was a provider and advocate for the city trades. Some coins manufactured here had this god pictured on them. Tyrimnos is represented as grasping the emperor’s hand, while other coins celebrate the deification of the emperor Domitian’s son, portraying him seated on a globe surrounded by seven stars.

Because of such strong Roman influences, we again need to be aware of the activity of the imperial cult in this city. The Thyatiran Christians were exposed to an organized paganism which impinged on their lives in many ways.

John writes to assure them and to warn them about the dangers of succumbing to these influences. The words of the victorious Christ show he is the true patron of the church and its work. He is the ‘Son of God’ arrayed with notably very similar characteristics as the carefully refined metal produced in the furnaces of their city.

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April 20, 2008

# 6: For the next few weeks I'll be posting on Revelation 2:1-3:22

(Notice- Copyright Dr. Gregory J. Laughery - 2008)

For the next few weeks I'll be posting on Revelation 2:1-3:22 - the Seven Letters to the Churches - out of my new book Living Apocalypse: A Revelation Reader and A Guide for the Perplexed.

The Letter to Pergamum ( 2:12 -17)
 
Introduction

Pergamum was not a city noted for its commerce, but for its great library and its importance as a center for many different forms of religious activity. In this regard, the imperial cult (emperor worship) was prominent, though not exclusive. The pagan god Asclepis was well known here and many came to the city to be healed. Temples to Zeus were in operation and several temples devoted to emperor worship existed. Living in Pergamum , surrounded by this deceptive religious environment, Christians were facing serious challenges to their faith.

Text

(12) The familiar phrase ‘these are the words’ affirms the prophetic announcement. This time it is made by the One with the sharp two-edged sword. The reference goes back to 1:16 and confirms that Christ is the speaker.

(13) Christ’s words “I know where you live,” shows us his personal knowledge of their situation. He is in their midst. The reference to “where Satan has his throne” may be tied in with the fact that city of Pergamum was the center of the imperial cult, which propagated emperor worship. In these overwhelmingly pagan conditions the Christians had remained faithful. This portrayal suggests that difficulties in maintaining their faith had been experienced. No doubt, as mentioned, this involved the martyrdom of Antipas, a faithful witness to Christ.

(14-15) Christ has a few things against the church. Some in their midst hold to the teachings of Balaam,  probably a typological reference, which represents incorrect and misleading teaching. Such a false perspective manifests itself through the Nicolaitans. As Balaam had misled the Israelites in the Old Testament resulting in their apostasy through idolatry and immorality (Num. 25:1, 31:16), so now the Nicolaitans were doing the same kind of thing in the midst of the church. They seem to be an enemy from within. The Nicolaitans’ standard is one of compromise with their pagan environment. Perhaps, they were saying, ‘Oh yes, faith in Christ is important, but it is not important enough to be persecuted for. It really doesn’t matter if one compromises and worships the emperor and is involved in all sorts of pagan activity.’ Compromise, not confrontation, was the way to survive. Where are we today? Lamentably, notions of compromise proliferate in the church, while confrontation is rare.

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April 13, 2008

# 5: For the next few weeks I'll be posting on Revelation 2:1-3:22

(Notice- Copyright Dr. Gregory J. Laughery - 2008)

For the next few weeks I'll be posting on Revelation 2:1-3:22 - the Seven Letters to the Churches - out of my new book Living Apocalypse: A Revelation Reader and A Guide for the Perplexed.

The Letter to Smyrna (2:8-11)

Introduction

Smyrna was a large city with a passionate loyalty to Rome . There were temples erected to the goddess of Rome and to many Roman leaders. Christians in Smyrna were surrounded by this pagan environment and challenged to live in allegiance to the crucified and risen One. This is both a joy and a task. We may find ourselves in quite similar situations, needing insightful guidance and true wisdom in following in the footsteps of Christ.

Text

(8) “These are the words” is an affirmation of the prophetic character of what is to follow. The identification of the speaker as the First and the Last, the One who died and has come to life, refers back to 1:17 -18. There is again in this letter the explicit relationship of the risen Christ to the church. To those facing persecution, even death, he is the victor and is in their midst.

(9) Christ knows their difficulties. He is aware of their poverty, which may have been brought about by the confiscation of their goods and property. Even in the midst of these problems he says, “You are rich.” This is likely to be a reference to their spiritual richness. We can contrast this with the letter to Laodicea ( 3:17 -18):

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; white clothes to wear, so you can cover your nakedness…

 This is such a good lesson for us to hear. Similar to the Laodiceans, we often equate material possessions with riches. It would seem, on the contrary, that true riches are spiritual. In 3:18 one is counseled to buy from Christ gold refined in the fire, the true way to become rich. Purity comes from Christ alone.

The thought here stands against much of what we are bombarded with in our own day concerning values and wealth. We can say there are two senses of being rich and two senses of being poor. In each case both are dependent on one’s relationship to Christ. Consider and ponder these important words for yourself and the church today!

The next part of the verse shows that the Jews themselves were likely to have been involved in the persecution of Christians at Smyrna . In this case the persecutors may have been Jews according to the flesh, since in the New Testament a true Jew is one who is in Christ (Rom. 2:28-29).

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April 06, 2008

# 4: For the next few weeks I'll be posting on Revelation 2:1-3:22

(Notice- Copyright Dr. Gregory J. Laughery - 2008)

For the next few weeks I'll be posting on Revelation 2:1-3:22 - the Seven Letters to the Churches - out of my new book Living Apocalypse: A Revelation Reader and A Guide for the Perplexed.

The Letter to Ephesus (2:1-7)

Introduction

 
Ephesus was one of the prominent cities of the ancient world and may have even been the greatest in all of Asia Minor . The famous temple of Artemis was located there, as well as two temples devoted to emperor worship (see Acts 19:17 -41). Religious syncretism proliferated and there was much superstition. No doubt this strongly pagan environment contributed to making life difficult for Christians, much as it does for us in our Ephesus today.


Text

(1) The letter, as we have seen, is addressed to “the angel of the church in Ephesus .” Clearly, the prophetic message is for the church itself. The words about to be spoken are those of the “one like a son of man,” the same one who has been identified with similar characteristics as the Ancient of Days. He is the risen Christ who is present in the midst of the churches.

The formulaic introduction, “these are the words,” found in all the letters is very close to the prophetic pronouncement in the Old Testament (“thus says the Lord”) and not only reminds us of the prophetic character of these seven letters, but also of the whole of the Apocalypse. Each letter concludes with a formulaic exhortation: “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.”

(2-3) We have a recurring affirmation (see the other six letters) of the exalted Christ’s knowledge of what is going on among his people, one of the most important motifs in each letter and especially applicable to us today. Christ is with his people. He knows what’s happening in their midst, both corporately and individually. He knows their deeds; he knows of their hard work and perseverance to hold on to true faith in him.

In addition, the passage compliments the Christians in Ephesus for their steadfastness in difficult times. These are all characteristics of the Christian life—there are certainly others, but in this context these are emphasized. Christians at Ephesus had succeeded in not accepting evil men and in testing those who claimed to be apostles, but were charlatans. It is a pity we are not as careful today.


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March 30, 2008

#3: For the next few weeks I'll be posting on Revelation 2:1-3:22


(Notice- Copyright Dr. Gregory J. Laughery - 2008)
 

In all seven letters there is a clear indication that the speaker is Christ, and a careful look shows us that each letter echoes back to chapter 1 (2:1 corresponds to 1:12-15, 2:8 and 1:17-18, 2:12 and 1:16, 2:18 and 1:14-15, 3:1 and 1:4, 16, 3:7 and 1:18, 3:14 and 1:2).
 
There is then a remarkably close relationship between the letters and chapter 1. We also should keep in mind, however, that the relationship of the letters to other parts of the book is pertinent as well. The heavenly city of Jerusalem in chapters 21 and 22  is contrasted to the seven earthly cities in that it is God’s city, the city to which all the promises made to the earthly cities looks forward. In chapters 4-20 there are also parallels of expression or symbol, suggesting John may have had the circumstances of the churches in mind, calling for patient endurance and faithfulness, giving warnings against idolatry, and Satan’s powerful and attractive deceptions. The point we need to continue to focus on is that there is an internal coherence to the book as different parts relate to each other. Going further, we could also say there is an overall coherence between the Apocalypse and the rest of Scripture. Systematic and precise divisions fail to do justice to the text.
 
These letters, as the rest of the Apocalypse, are as pertinent today as they ever were. Think of the churches as symbolic for churches throughout the centuries. Consider the impoverished state of the church in our times. Consumerism, idolatry, confused and superficial theology and spirituality, empty minds and blinded hearts, characterize far too many Christians and churches, showing that we have much to learn from each letter. Read together they will provide critique, wisdom and insight for our lives. As we face the powerful threat of cultural, religious and political manifestations that set themselves up as authoritative and endanger faith and allegiance to the crucified and risen One, we want to be informed about and aware of whom we follow and obey.

March 25, 2008

#2: For the next few weeks I'll be posting on Revelation 2:1-3:22

For the next few weeks I'll be posting on Revelation 2:1-3:22 - the Seven Letters to the Churches - out of my new book Living Apocalypse: A Revelation Reader and A Guide for the Perplexed.
 
(Notice- Copyright Dr. Gregory J. Laughery - 2008)

Please join us and share your comments and insights.
 
Who are these angels? (see previous post)
Many today put forward the latter suggestion, however, it may not be the most accurate. While it is true that the word ‘angel’ almost always means messenger and is found over sixty times in the Apocalypse, not including these letters, it is noteworthy that each of these times it refers to a heavenly being. Consequently, it seems unlikely that the address to ‘angel’ in the letters is a reference to a human messenger or leader.
What about the possibility that these angels are guardian angels? While uncommon, this view is not completely without merit. There is a reference to this in the book of Daniel ( 10:13 , 20, 21), where nations seem to have something like a guardian angel. In our context however, this is difficult to support as it does not quite make sense to see John as commissioned to write these letters to guardian angels with instructions for them to perform their guardianship more effectively. Another problem with this interpretation, as well as the previous one, lies within the letters themselves. Each of them has the particular congregations and specific location in mind, and is practically concerned with their daily lives.
Another interpretation considers the angels as heavenly counterparts of earthly congregations. This should not be taken literally, as if John sees the congregations seated in the heavens above, answering to their equivalents below. It is better to think of them as existentially in heaven though living on earth. In other words, we can imagine this as symbolically conveying the truth that there is an aspect of heavenly existence related to their earthly lives in Christ.
John writes to earthly communities characterized by their failures and weaknesses, successes and strengths. However, these communities have one feature which distinguishes them from any other earthly communities. They are said to be ‘in Jesus’ and are therefore made priests and a kingdom with him (1:6, 9). It is because of this fact that John addresses his letters to the ‘angel’. He is aiming to show these Christians that they have a heavenly orientation as their existence is also ‘in Jesus’ who is in heaven. Their earthly conduct and actions should reflect this heavenly existence and it is this existence that John wants to stress. Of course, we must remember that Christ is also in the midst of the lampstands. These two realities, Christ present with the church on earth and they with him in heaven are cause for great reassurance, especially in the midst of terrible persecution.
It may be helpful here to think of the two images used in 1:20 . We have stars (angels) and lampstands, both of which seem to point to the churches and both of which symbolize light. One is an earthly light, the other heavenly. Is it possible that this reflects the dual character of the church? If so, perhaps the two-sided nature of the church works out something like this: First, the church must act to preserve faith in Christ in the face of persecution and hardship. The church is to keep its lampstand lit as the turbulent winds of deceit seek to extinguish the light of the gospel. The assurance that this can be carried out and the protection it offers comes from the fact that Christ is among the lampstands (1:13).
    Second, the churches were, as the church is today, an eschatological reality. They and we already belong, in some sense, to the new world. Each individual who has believed on Christ is made a new creation. That new creation is in reality a sign of the rule of God breaking into the world (first through the coming of Christ, then through the very existence of the church as we who are part of it await the redemption of our bodies and the universe itself upon Christ’s return), and transferring us from one rule to the other. In other words, the future has broken into the present. Therefore, those in Christ already share and participate in the reality of being present with God in heaven just as the stars and angels. The assurance of this reality and the protection it offers is found in the fact that Christ holds the seven stars (angels) in his right hand. This indicates his power to sustain the churches through any and every persecution or difficulty (see Eph. 2:6-10; Phil. 3:15 -21; and Col. 3:1 for Paul’s view of this interpretive option where he clearly emphasizes the ‘already but not yet’ feature of salvation).

March 16, 2008

#1: For the next few weeks I'll be posting on Revelation 2:1-3:22

For the next few weeks I'll be posting on Revelation 2:1-3:22 - the Seven Letters to the Churches - out of my new book Living Apocalypse: A Revelation Reader and A Guide for the Perplexed.
 
(Notice- Copyright Dr. Gregory J. Laughery - 2008)

General Introduction to the Letters

 
In the previous chapter we studied 1:1-20. The opening of the Apocalypse has provided us with a magnificient proclamation of blessing to those who read and obey what is testified to and written. John ’s prophetic addresses is to the seven churches in Asia , but symbolically to all churches. Grace and peace from God, who was, is, and is to come and Jesus Christ, who has provided redemption and made his followers into a subversive kingdom serving God.
 
We developed, more extensively, verse 10 and the phrase ‘on the Lord’s Day’. I suggested, against both the traditional and reformation views that we meet together not because of tradition, nor because of social convenience, nor for the practical ordering of the life of the church. The real reason we meet for worship is because of the resurrection of Christ. This is ‘the Lord’s Day’.
 
Attention was also given to the notion of John ’s being ‘in the Spirit’ and the reception of the command to write to the seven churches (see 1:9-20 first vision). In verse 12 John turns to ‘see’, implying here the visionary aspect of what he is now about to describe. We concluded that this majestic vision was of the crucified, risen, and glorified Christ. Many of the Old Testament metaphors that describe God, especially from the book of Daniel, are now used by John in his description of ‘one like a son of man’.
 
In verses 17-18 the prophet fell at the feet of Christ as though dead, but is told not to fear. The one he sees is the First and the Last—the Living One—the one who was dead, but who now lives forever and ever. Verse 19 includes the command to write what was seen, what is now, and what will take place later. These are not to be taken as statements of time that provide a neat division of the book as often past, present, and future concerns are woven in and through all parts of the Apocalypse. In verse 20 we were given the explanation of the mystery of the seven stars in Christ’s right hand and of the seven golden lampstands among which he is seen (see 1:13, 16). The seven stars are the angels of the churches and the seven lampstands are the churches.
 
This brief review of chapter 1 leads us into some preliminary considerations on the seven letters—proclamations in chapters 2-3 that are addressed “to ‘the angel’ of the church in ...” We may quickly find ourselves unsatisfied with the previous explanation of the seven stars being the angels of the seven churches. What does this mean? Why are all the letters addressed to an ‘angel’? Are we to think that the churches had some sort of guardian angel? Were these letters addressed to human messengers or leaders, perhaps something like bishops in the churches?
 
I hope to provide some answers to these important questions in the next post.