Tonight we will be studying Revelation 2. This chapter contains Jesus’s oracles to four of the seven churches – Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and Thyatira. Dr. Gorman’s book, Reading Revelation Responsibly (pp. 88-90). has a good chart summary of the seven oracles.
As an aside, the earliest Roman account of Christians is governor Pliny’s letter to the emperor Trajan (c.111). Pliny was the governor of Bithynia in northern Asia Minor (adjacent to the territory in which our seven churches are located) and he details the problems that Christians are causing to the local pagan and emperor cults, but concludes that these Christians are otherwise harmless. His letter is Here. The letter was probably written a decade or two after Revelation and it gives us a good idea of what the other side of Revelation was thinking. Please take the time to read this very short correspondence.
The Church at Pergamum:
The third church addressed by Christ’s oracle is the congregation in the city of Pergamum. This city is located not far up the coastal road from Ephesus and Smyrna and about 20 miles inland from the Agean. The first imperial cult in Asia was established here, and at the time of John’s Revelation, it was the center of emperor worship in Asia Minor. On its acropolis overlooking the City stood not only the temple to the Emperor but also temples and altars to Athena, Zeus, Dionysius, and other gods. During the time of Nero (just prior to Revelation) its bishop, Antipas, who had been ordained by John the Apostle, had been martyred.
This letter opens with Jesus being described as “him who has the two-edged sword.” This statement is taken from Revelation 1:16 and refers to the words which come from Christ’s mouth, i.e. his witness. It is this witness (martyrdom) for which Bishop Antipas was killed and for which this church is suffering persecution.
The church is praised for holding fast to the name of Christ and not denying the faith despite being in the literal shadow of the temple to the Roman emperor (i.e. Satan’s throne). More than any of the other seven congregations, they worship in the very opposition to the cult of the Roman emperor. The congregation exists in the lion’s den itself.
Their condemnation, however, is that some in the congregation have accommodated themselves to the emperor cult. The oracle references Balak, King of Moab, who set up an altar to his god Baal-Peor in the desert, and thereby led some of the Israelites under Moses astray. (See, Numbers 25:1-3). The oracle condemns those who eat food sacrificed to idols. This injunction is in accordance with Acts 15:29 but appears to contradict Paul’s teaching in Romans 14:14 and 1 Corinthians 10:25. In the Roman world, the local butcher shop was generally the local pagan temple that took in sacrificial beasts and then sold the meat. Paul says the meat is acceptable to eat, but John may be referring not only to the eating of the meat but also to participating in the beast’s sacrifice to the emperor or the pagan gods as well.
The promise to the church in Pergamum is that they will be given “hidden manna” and a “white pebble.” (v.17). Hidden manna refers to the Eucharist, Christ himself, and the heavenly banquet. John 6. They are to eat of Christ’s sacrifice (the Eucharist) and not of the pagan sacrifice. The “white pebble” probably refers to the Roman custom of awarding white stones to the victors of athletic games, thus giving the winner his ticket to a special awards banquet. The special part of the promise, however, is that only the recipient knows if he has received the white pebble. In this way, the oracle is saying that only I know if I am a recipient of Christ’s pebble, no one else knows and no one else can judge otherwise.
The Church at Thyatira:
Thyatira is a small town located inland from the Aegean Sea between Smyrna and Pergamum. The city was known for its manufacturing and had more occupational guilds than any city in Asia. In our readings last Sunday, we learned that Lydia (one of Paul’s converts) was from Thyatira and was a merchant of purple cloth. Acts 16:14. These guilds were the backbone of civil society and often had guild feasts dedicated to the guild’s patron god. The necessity of participation in a pagan worship festival in order to also participate in the commerce of the city would have been difficult for a Christian merchant or worker.
The letter opens with Jesus being described as the “Son of God” (Ps. 2:7) who has eyes like fire and feet like bronze. (Rev. 1:14-15). Jesus is the one who sees all things with a penetrating eye that will burn off the outward appearance. He is also the one that stands firm in the face of adversity.
The oracle commends the congregation for its great works of love, faith, service, and endurance. And, unlike Ephesus, their later works are more glorious than their first. This congregation is growing in the knowledge and love of God.
However, some in the congregation tolerate a Jezebel who has led the congregation astray into worshipping pagan gods. Presumably, this self-proclaimed prophetess has successfully instructed some in the church that it is acceptable to participate in the pagan guild feasts. The oracle’s instruction is (1) to throw her and her unrepentant followers out of the congregation and (2) to otherwise hold fast to their faith in Christ.
The promise (like the introduction) quotes Psalm 2. The psalm promises the son of God will rule the nations and break them like a rod of iron applied to a piece of pottery (vv. 7-9). The promise in Revelation is that the saints will also inherit this messianic authority to judge the world, including the Roman empire. (See, 1 Cor. 6:2-3). They only must stay the course and reject the teaching of the Jezebel.
As you read through each of these seven oracles to the seven churches – their proscription, praise, and promises – see yourself. Where do you meet the expectations of Christ and where do you fall short? Most importantly, how do Christ’s promises speak to you?
Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is Hawaiian chicken. Discussion about 7:15. Hope to see you here.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.Hebrews 4:12