Saturday, June 24, 2023

Overcome The World

Bobservations' Column

Titled - "Overcome the World"
Written by: Pastor Bob Lawrenz

Last week we learned of something that the Lord God hates in His Church, the deeds of the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6). Here’s the problem: There is no sect or official group, or record of such a group. So, this is what we know: having been written in the Greek by John the Apostle, we need to break down the Greek word. “Nico” means to conquer, or to rule over, and “Laitan” in the Greek refers to the laity. So, our clearest understanding is that church leaders divided the church into two classes of people: leaders, and those that need to be led.

God says in the Letter to the Ephesus Church that the Church hates it, and so does He. This is the same thing that happened within Judaism that Jesus came to rectify. When He taught anywhere, He did not lord His position over the listeners, and He did not dress up in apparel any different from the average person on the street. The deeds of the Nicolaitans are a construct of human nature, and not “of the Spirit.”

Jesus said in John 15 that He no longer called us servants, but friends. And true friends don’t have to dress up for each other; friends join in fellowship and companionship just as they are.

But what was mere practice in Ephesus with a ruling class within the church has fully blossomed in Pergamum, and Thyatira as church dogma. These messages to each church establish a chronology of timed events that John writes of, covering the entirety of the Church Age. The Holy Spirit is showing him what happened to Judaism over the years, will also will happen in the future church over time because human nature does not change without the conviction of the Holy Spirit. As The Word has told us, a leopard cannot change his own spots (Jer. 13:23), and neither can we change our own sin nature.

Here’s the rub: Jesus calls us to be changed anyway. From death to life, we are to be changed by believing in Him. As the Holy Spirit of God testifies of Jesus (John 16:12-14), we find ourselves comparing ourselves to Jesus, rather than to each other. Set your sights on Jesus, and become more like Him…

In each letter, “To him that overcometh…” is followed by a promise specific to each church.  We can follow the world, or we can be overcomers!

Sunday Morning Audio Message:
Revelation 2:12-29 - "Overcome The World"


Brief Summary - We are continuing our study in the Book of Revelation from chapter 2, verses 12-29. In this morning’s text, we will read the letters to the church in Pergamum, the church that needed to repent (2:12-17), and also the church in Thyatira, the church that had a false prophetess (2:18-29).

The Pergamene believers lived in a difficult place, surrounded by pagan influences, yet held fast to the name of Christ and did not deny Him in their difficulties. However, they had people among them who held to the teaching of Balaam, and the teachings of the Nicolaitans, which were pagan, idolatrous, and contrary to the gospel and teachings of Christ.

The author of this letter, “He which hath the sharp sword with two edges” (vs 12), is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, issuing a clarion call to repent of their sin.

The believers in Thyatira were commended for their love, faith, service, patience and works, but were guilty of allowing a false prophetess to lead them into idolatry, adultery and sexual immorality. Rather than rebuke her and remove her from the church, they allowed her deception to perpetuate in the church.  The tone of this letter is much more serious, because the church had actually yeilded to the demoralizing influence of false teaching and sin.

Again, it is clear that the author is Jesus, “These things saith the Son of God… “(vs.18), He is pronouncing judgment on this “Jezebel”, and calls the church of Thyatira to repent of their sin, or face judgment.

Jesus encourages those who remain faithful, to hold fast until He comes, and gives a promise to those who overcome.

Background Notes
- Pergamos is less than a hundred miles from Ephesus. Smyrna would be about halfway if you were moving north. The route of these letters follows the route that would be taken to deliver them. Ephesus the starting point, and then on to Smyrna, and then on about 50 miles, 55 miles or so north to the city of Pergamos.

It’s about 20 miles inland from the Aegean Sea. Pergamum was the ancient capital of Asia and considered to be Asia’s greatest city. Pergamum still exists today as the Turkish city of Bergama.  By the time John penned this letter, it had been the capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor for somewhere between 250 and 300 years. The word Pergamos literally means parchment. You know what parchment is? Parchment is a writing material developed from animal skin. And apparently it was first developed in this area and thus the city of Pergamos took its name from that.

It was an important religious center where the pagan cults worshiping Athena; Asklepios; Dionysius, which is another name for Bacchus the god of drunkenness and debauchery; Zeus – all of these things were there. The worship of the Roman Emperor was very big. In fact, this was the first city in the ancient Roman world to build a temple to Caesar. It was built in 29 A.D., right about the time of the flourishing of the ministry of Jesus Christ. The emperor worship had reached the point of cultic form. He was no longer seen as a political or military leader, but he was seen as a god. And in this city they built the first temple to Caesar. Further years indicated that they built further temples, and so the city had perhaps several temples of worship for Caesar. It became then the capital of Caesar worship. That city which was more given over to that than any other city in ancient Roman territory.

Along with Caesar worship, they had developed other pagan forms of worship. And as long as you worshiped Caesar, you could worship somebody else.  This was a dangerous place for Christians who did not worship Caesar, they worshiped Christ and Him alone and refused on the one day a year when you had to burn incense to Caesar.  As a result, they faced persecution, lost their citizenry rights and even their lives.  Being the capital city for Caesar worship, the danger to Christians would have been intensified. 

In the city of Pergamos existed a large university and a library – and this is quite remarkable in ancient times – a library of 200,000 volumes.  In fact, it was such a significant library that it was later sent to Egypt as a gift from Antony to Cleopatra. So, the city had some prominence and some significance.

We don't know how the Church at Pergamos started. We do know, according to Acts chapter 16 that Paul passed through the area. This city, Pergamos, was in a region of Asia Minor called Mysia. And in Acts 16:8 it says Paul passed through there. Whether or not he had ministry there, we don’t know. There’s nothing in the book of Acts to tell us that he founded the church. The best understanding would come from Acts 19:10, because in Acts 19:10 you remember that the Apostle Paul had this wonderful ministry in the city of Ephesus, and it was so powerful and so far-reaching that verse 10 says that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. So at some point during the time of three years ministering in Ephesus, the word was bouncing out. People were traveling and moving. Christians were going up north through these various cities and taking the gospel, and it was echoing through all of Asia Minor.

During that period of time, no doubt, the church at Pergamos was founded. But it was in a very pagan atmosphere.  The church at Ephesus had been infiltrated by false apostles, losing its "first love" as a result, and the Smyrna church had been infiltrated by Judaizers; so also, Pergamos was affected by compromise with the paganism surrounding it.  Ever since the beginning of the church age, the church has been affected by those insisting on an official priesthood, by legalism, by evolutionary pantheism, or by all of these.

So, in the middle of all this paganism was situated this little church to which Christ addressed the letter. In fact, in verse 13 you will note that He says, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.” Satan’s got his operations all over the world, but he’s got his throne there. That’s quite an amazing statement. Make no mistake, my friend, his throne is not in hell. It’s in this world. This is the field of his operation. Hell is the place of his incarceration. This is the place of his operation. His power was unleashed from this city and some in the Pergamos church had fallen victim to Satan and become thoroughly engulfed, enmeshed, and even married to the world. Frankly, not persecution but this kind of compromise is the fastest way to destroy the church’s life and testimony.

The church in Pergamum had a choice to make, a choice that each church and I believe that each person must make. They could repent and receive all the blessings of eternal life in heaven. Or they could refuse to repent and face the terrifying truth of Jesus Christ declaring war on them. If we want to compromise with the world, then we will face judgment.

We must each individually examine our own lives in light of this letter. You must examine your life to see if you are in any way compromising your faith. Is there sin that you are tolerating in your life? Is there sin that you are justifying in your life? Calling a sin an addiction or a habit is one of the ways we justify sin in our lives. We need to repent of it which remember means to change one’s life, based on a complete change of attitude and thought concerning sin and righteousness. We live in a nation of toleration, anything and everything that makes you feel good is okay, and if we speak of something as sin then we offend someone. God’s Word is very clear on what is sin, and we must not tolerate it in our lives or in our church. Instead, we must stand firmly on the Word of God.  The Word of God is a two-edged sword, it wasn't given to us to make us comfortable, but to teach us, correct us and warn us.  

Background Notes - Thyatira
We do not have any information about the founding of this church. The only other reference that we have of Thyatira is in Acts 16 when Paul was in the city of Philippi and he went out by the river on the Sabbath and there were a group of people assembled there for prayer. In Acts 16:14-15 we read, And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.  And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us." It is possible that Lydia and the members of her household who came to faith in Christ were instrumental in starting the church in Thyatira upon their return. 

The city of Thyatira was a small city and did not have any of the prestige of the first three cities. It was founded by one of Alexander the Great’s successors as a military outpost guarding the north-south road. It was about 40 miles southeast of Pergamum. Pergamum was the northernmost city of the seven to whom the letters were addressed, the other four are south of Pergamum and begin to move inland from the Aegean Sea. The city of Thyatira was in a rich agricultural area and was famous for the manufacture of purple dye. Lydia mentioned earlier was part of that trade being a seller of purple cloth. Thyatira was also known for numerous guilds, similar to our present-day trade unions. Its main industry was wool and dyed-goods, but secular literature also mentions guilds for linen, bakers, slave dealers, and bronze smiths.

Unlike the cities we have already looked at, Thyatira was not an important religious center. The primary god worshipped in Thyatira was Apollo, the Greek sun god. The Jewish population was also very small in Thyatira. The pressure the Christians faced in Thyatira came from the guilds. To hold a job, to operate a business, it was necessary to belong to a guild. Each guild had a god or goddess in whose honor feasts where held, this included making sacrifices to these gods and goddesses and the sexual immorality that was a part of Greek and Roman idolatry. Again, there was no tolerance of Christianity.  They needed to choose to partake in idolatry, or forfeit their jobs and suffer persecution.  

The letter to Thyatira is about a church that had many good points, but also was engaged in compromising with error, compromising with sin, like the church at Pergamos. Only what was beginning to happen in Pergamos had come to full bloom in Thyatira. If the church married the world in Pergamos, in Thyatira they were celebrating anniversaries. If compromise had begun in Pergamos, it had taken over in Thyatira. And this letter shows the depth of sin that compromise ultimately leads to – full-scale idolatry, full-scale immorality, and worst of all, tolerance of both. This is the church that has been infiltrated by the world. This is the church that tolerated sin, the church that absorbed sin, absorbed error and lived happily ever after with it. This is the kind of church that is common today, as it has been through all of the centuries, but completely inconsistent with the demands of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the head of the church.

As we read this letter, we note that it is a very serious letter.  Charles Erdman has a helpful perspective on the place of this letter among the seven. Listen to what he said. “This letter to the church in Thyatira begins the second group of letters to the churches of Asia Minor. In the first group, the church of Ephesus was characterized by a loyalty to Christ which was lacking in love. In the church of Smyrna, loyalty was tested by fire. In the church of Pergamos the loyalty was lacking in moral passion. Yet all three churches were true to the faith and had not yielded to the assaults of evil.” In other words, they were still fighting against them. He goes on. “In the case of the church at Thyatira, as of the churches in Sardis and Laodicea, the situation was far more serious. Here not merely a small minority was indifferent but large numbers had actually yielded to the demoralizing influence of false teaching, and I might add of sin.”

Nicolaitanes - are only mentioned in Revelation 2:6 and 15.  There was no known sect or movement with this name during the apostolic period, so this is probably a descriptive term rather than a proper noun.  These messages were meant ultimately for all churches, and it is certain that the term has meaning for all churches.  In context, it almost certainly is referring to the false apostles of Revelation 2:2.  Practically all churches have been plagued at one time or another by false teachers, false prophets, false apostles and sometimes even by false christs.  The term "Nicolaitanes" means literally "overcomers, or conquerors of the people." That, of course, is precisely what false apostles, teachers, prophets seek to do, desiring to turn the love and allegiance of the people in the church to themselves rather than to Christ.   Christ hates both the deeds and the doctrines of Nicolaitanism, and we should too. 

Jezebel - In verse 20, whether Jezebel is this women's real name or not, what's important is that the Lord Jesus Christ called her Jezebel, and that is for a reason.  Jezebel had been the pagan queen of Israel in the days of Elijah (2 Kings 9:22); she introduced Baal worship into Israel (1 Kings 16:30-33).  Claiming she had the gift of prophecy, she had led the church into gross immorality while simultaneously manifesting love, faith, and good works (2:19).  This church is typical of many churches since then that profess spirituality and "love" while downgrading doctrine and separation.

Those in Thyatira thought that they could participate in the guilds and have their faith in Christ also. But Christ called this adultery, a breaking of the covenant bond with Him. To tolerate sin in our own lives or in our own local body is the same cancer that was destroying the church in Thyatira. They allowed strange doctrine into the church which began leading Christians astray. This should not happen, this is what the church in Ephesus was commended for, they kept pure doctrine, they did not let false teaching into the church. The church in Thyatira had love, but they did not guard the truth. A church needs both. This is why it is so important that we are in God’s Word every day, so that we know what it teaches, a true doctrine of the church is not just in one place in the Bible, it will be a doctrine of the whole Bible. This is why we pray for discernment. Be careful, be discerning of what you listen to, or what you read in books, on the internet, because you never know what people believe who have written in books and especially the internet. We must be very careful not to be led astray or to tolerate sin or apostasy in our lives or in the church. If you want the truth, stick to God’s Word and learn it.

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