Christian Churches of God
The Pillars of Philadelphia
(Edition 1.0 20010913-20060609)
The promise to the smallest and most faithful of the Churches of God, the Church of the Philadelphians, was that they would be made Pillars in the Temple of God. This is a much more powerful promise than it might first appear.
Pillars of Philadelphia
In the text of the messages to the Seven Angels of the Seven Churches Christ has this to say to the Church of the Philadelphians.
"And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: `The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens. 8 "`I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut; I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie -- behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial, which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth. 11 I am coming soon; hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 He who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.' (RSV)
This text says that he who conquers will be made a pillar in the Temple of Messiah’s God and here in the RSV it says: never shall he go out of it. But the text actually says: no more shall he go out of it (cf. Marshall’s Interlinear where it says: By no means he shall go forth [any] longer).
What exactly does it mean to be made a pillar in the Temple of Messiah’s God? What is happening in the message to the churches? Is there a story here from which we might draw some understanding?
Firstly, why was the message to the angels and not directly to the churches? The answer can be deduced from the facts of history. The churches mentioned are in fact all drawn from a line of cities in Asia Minor that were on a mail route. The assumption is that the mail route was a sequential progression from the churches mentioned. The churches commenced at Ephesus and moved through the cities until the last mentioned which was Laodicea. The order was thus held to be Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.
Because they were in a progression in order as a mail route, it was then assumed that they actually referred to eras of the Church spread over the history of the Church in the wilderness. This view is of course totally rejected by the church in Rome as it means that the lampstand was passed from one era to another and hence could not rest in one church in one location as is claimed by the Roman Catholic system. The Orthodox Church might see this as erroneous in the same way but apply to them as the authority with the Roman system being derived from them and hence of no authority either. Their resistance to this view of the prophecy will be solidified as they all progress to reunification over the next few years. From 1996 the Egyptian Coptic Church went back into union with Rome after a split lasting from 451 following the Council of Chalcedon. This was brought about by the increasing persecution of Egyptian Fundamentalism (see also The Fall of Egypt (No. 36)).
The fact that the message was written to the angels of the Seven Churches meant that they had responsibility for what happened in those churches and the message had a life of itself that transcended time.
The view of the extended church era is reinforced by the administration of the churches themselves in the first few centuries.
John was effectively head of all of the churches from Ephesus after the death of the other apostles. Peter, for example, had been bishop of Antioch and not of Rome. His successors whom he trained later established the headquarters from Smyrna. Polycarp and later Polycrates were the premier bishops of the East. They trained and despatched the bishops into Europe and the East. For example, the bishops at Lyon up until Irenaeus were trained and despatched by Smyrna and not by Rome. Polycarp was held to have founded the church at Lyon ca. 120 CE (cf the paper Timeline of the Churches of God (No. 30)).
Thus Ephesus was the first love of the church. It was new and it was the home of the last apostle and the one loved by Jesus Christ. Thus the message can be seen in this light. The apostle John wrote the messages whilst he was in exile on the island of Patmos around 95 of the current era.
I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, "Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Per'gamum and to Thyati'ra and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to La-odice'a." 12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; 14 his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; 16 in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Now write what you see, what is and what is to take place hereafter. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. (RSV)
In this text Christ tells John to write what is then and what was to take place thereafter. He explains that the seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches and that the seven golden lampstands are the seven churches over which they preside.
This text tells us a number of things:
· The seven churches have a lamp of their own.
· The seven angels are stars in their own right.
· The message is given to each one of them separately.
From this we deduce that each church and each angel is directly responsible to Jesus Christ and there is no continuity of people and authority from one church to another.
Each angel and his church is responsible to Jesus Christ who has the two edged sword proceeding from His mouth which is the word of the Law of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. We will see that failure is punished by the removal of authority symbolised by the candlestick or lampstand itself.
The message was for what was then and for what was to come. Thus this prophecy covered the time span of the churches. The argument might be and has been put forward that the churches themselves at those locations simply were covered by the prophecy and when they perished so did the time frame of the prophecy. This view is not supported by the history of the churches themselves in those locations. We have the Ephesian and the Smyrna era correctly placed and the administration did go from one to another. However, the Ephesian church did not recover in any sense that might be of the great significance required by the works and prophecies here in the Revelation of God to Jesus Christ. Moreover, there must be a more important message involved or the prophecy would seem to be open to the charge of trivialising the importance of prophecy to the churches over time.
We might examine the messages and the history to test their application to history and the importance of these prophecies.
John is told to write to his own church.
"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: `The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 "`I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false; 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have, you hate the works of the Nicola'itans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.' (RSV)
In this first church we are close to the scene and within the period of John. The great controversies mentioned by John in the epistles of John cover these disputes up until the time of the Revelation. This is the time referred to as being what is. Modern critics claim that the text refers to the activities in Rome during the time of Nero but that is not correct. The early church accepted it as prophetic for hundreds of years. The texts were written in the terms of the end of the first century and within the terms of reference that they would understand but are for events over the millennia ahead.
The importance of Ephesus and Antioch to the Church should not be underestimated. Yet Antioch under Peter and his successors gets no mention in these prophecies at all. Areas that were then not even bishoprics get mentioned.
The falling away or the loss of the first love of this era and church is easily identified and not in dispute. What is in question is the relevance of the time frame and locations to the Churches of God.
Ephesus was a large seaport city on the coast of Asia Minor. It was an important commercial and religious centre and Paul worked there for an extended period. Acts 19:8,10 states that he taught in the synagogue for three months and then in the hall of Tyrannus for two years. Acts 20:31 gives a round figure of three years for his total time there. The name of the Ephesians appears in some MSS in Ephesians 1:1 (A,D,G and the later Koine or Byzantine family). Ephesus appears also in Acts 18:27 in D and in the margin of the Harklean Syriac. The Ephesians are referred to in Acts 19:28, 34,35). Trophimus the Ephesian is spoken of in Acts 21:29.
The Ephesian church was undoubtedly an early and premier centre of the early church.
According to Strabo (XIV. 632,640) the first people there were Carians and Leleges. They were driven out by Androcolese son of the king of Athens who led the Ionian Greek colonisation there, some time around king Solomon’s death and the partition of Israel. Androcolese is regarded as the founder of Ephesus. However, there was a cult of Artemis there long before that. The first temple to Artemis was built by the Architect Chersiphron (Strabo XIV 640). The city was dedicated to Artemis in the siege by the Lydians under Croesus ca 560 BCE when he began his conquest of all the nations west of the Halys R. Afterwards Croesus himself donated the golden oxen to the temple and the greater part of its pillars (cf. Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 2, p. 115).
In 334 CE Alexander conquered the Persians at the Grancus River and the temple was rebuilt there soon after. The Ephesians declined Alexander’s offer to pay for it.
Alexander’s general Lysimachus is considered to be the modern founder of Ephesus when it passed to him with the greater part of Asia Minor. He rebuilt it on higher ground and the walls and tower are visible to this day on the hills. He also built a new harbour.
When Lysimachus was defeated and slain by Seleucus 1, Ephesus, along with the entire Asian Empire of Lysimachus, was then entrusted to his son Antiochus 1 and thus became part of the Seleucid Empire (Pausanius I. 16.2). In 190 BCE the Seleucid king, Antiochus III the Great, was defeated by the Romans at Magnesia near Sipylus and the cities of Asia Minor fell under the domination of Rome (Livy XXXVII. xxxvii- xlv). In the Battle of Magnesia Eumenes II of Pergamum aided the Romans, and afterward they gave him much of the holdings of Antiochus including the city of Ephesus.
When the last ruler of Pergamum Attalus III Philometor died in 133 BCE he bequeathed his kingdom to the Romans and so Ephesus came again under their rule (cf. Interpreter’s Dict., ibid.). By 64 BCE the Romans had put down any serious opposition there and the area was all under Roman influence. Under Augustus a general peace was enjoyed and in 29 BCE the city of Ephesus dedicated a sacred precinct to Rome and according to Cassius Dio (LI, xx, 6) Ephesus attained the chief place in Asia and the Interpreter’s Dictionary states:
In the next century or two it enjoyed that great glory to which its ruins still bear witness (ibid.).
A temple to the emperor Domitian (81-96) was erected at Ephesus and also a temple to the Egyptian god Serapis was erected in the second century. This was during and subsequent to the time of John. Domitian persecuted the Church and was their archenemy. Ephesus however continued on as a Christian site for many centuries. The village and the hill there in the region of the Artemission (temple of Artemis) called Aysoluk is derived from the name ‘Agios Theologos which was the title given to John in the Eastern Church (cf. Interp. Dict., ibid., pp. 117-118).
It was still in operation for many centuries and a large basilica was erected there probably in the fourth century. Between the stadium and the harbour are the ruins of another large church we know to be the Church of the Virgin Mary, which housed the Council of Ephesus in 431.
This places us with a clear view of the importance of Ephesus in relation to the other cities. We are also faced with the fact that it was in complete ruins for centuries until it began to be excavated in by J.T. Wood on May 2, 1863.
From these details we eliminate two possibilities:
Firstly we eliminate the possibility that the text in Revelation was a message to an ongoing church that was to last till the coming of Messiah.
We can also, from the history, exclude the possibility that the importance of the churches passed from one to another over time.
The importance of Smyrna did indeed grow and its bishops were paramount in the Quartodeciman disputes at the end of the second century (see the paper The Quartodeciman Disputes (No. 277)). However, we could not conclude that Pergamum, which did indeed become a bishopric later on could be said to have succeeded to the importance of the third church and retained that until the Thyatiran church took over from it.
There is not a continual operation of the church eras and yet the wording of the texts from Thyatira onwards indicates that such was to be the case.
Indeed the texts become meaningless if we assume that the messages were to hold fast until the coming of Messiah when those churches have been dead for centuries and indeed not even Christian areas.
The arguments that they were written at the time of Nero concerning events then are specifically designed to eliminate the Book of Revelation as a prophetic work and thus eliminate the prophecies from consideration in the Last Days.
For example, Ephesus was buried for centuries and was left seven miles or more inland by the time it was excavated. Laodicea, which is asserted to have been alive at the coming of Messiah, has only recently begun to be excavated.
Ephesus did indeed start a chain of events that was to continue until the coming of Messiah and the prophecies do indeed relate to church eras. We will examine what they mean as we progress down the years.
Smyrna as we saw was just north of Ephesus. It is the modern city of Izmir. To this day it remains a large and busy commercial centre and perhaps the largest of Asia Minor.
It was made into a city area when Antigonus and Lysimachus at the end of the fourth and the beginning of the third century BCE fortified it. From 195 BCE Smyrna allied itself with Rome and established a cult to the city of Rome. It was protected and rewarded with the sole exception when Trebonius, one of the murderers of Julius Caesar, took refuge there and Dolabella took the city and executed Trebonius (Interp. Dict., Vol. 4, p. 393).
Smyrna was awarded the “privilege” in 23 BCE, from among eleven cities, of building a temple to the Emperor Tiberius in view of its long history of loyalty to Rome (Tac. Ann. IV.55-56). The Interpreter’s Dictionary holds that:
It vied with Ephesus and Pergamum for the title of first city of Asia (ibid.).
There were a variety of cults in Smyrna including the imperial cult. The cult of the Mother of Sipylus which Filson holds to be a form of Cybele worship (ibid.) was also extant.
Reverent honour was also paid to Homer and hence acceptance of the Homeric Pantheon. The city also had a large number of Jews who were aggressively hostile to the Christians.
The arrival of Christianity to Smyrna is unknown. The first indications of it come from the Book of Revelation in these texts. John is however given information regarding what is to happen to Smyrna in the future and when he wrote it certainly did not have a “lampstand” of any note. There is no record other than that of Revelation of the church in Smyrna until the end of the first century.
"And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: `The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. 9 "`I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who conquers shall not be hurt by the second death.'
The text here refers to the persecution of Smyrna. The Church in Smyrna actually took over as leader from Ephesus after John died and the disciple Polycarp administered the Church from there establishing churches as far away as Lyon in Gaul in what is now Southern France from 120 CE.
The ten days actually refers to the major persecution of Diocletian, which was three years in the West, but continued for ten years in the East from 303 to 313 CE. The persecutions were placed at an end in 314 by the edict of Milan called the Edict of Toleration issued by Constantine who then tried to regularise Christian worship in the Roman Empire. The Jews persecuted the Church under the Smyrna era right up until the end of the Jewish Arab kingdoms, which lasted until the rise of Islam. The influence of the Jews at this time was extensive and stretched into Africa via the horn into Ethiopia. It was during this period that the rabbinical Jewish system implemented the Hillel Calendar and changed the dates to accord with later post-Temple period rabbinical tradition. The calendar was changed in 358 CE under Rabbi Hillel II based on a system of calculation brought from Babylon by two Babylonian rabbis in 344 CE (cf. the paper God's Calendar (No. 156)).
The Sabbath-keeping church in Smyrna suffered a decline through the Trinitarian and pagan Easter/Christmas system introduced there in the end of the fourth century. The Sabbatarians then were forced further east for a period of time (see the paper Origins of Christmas and Easter (No. 235)).
Pergamum is a city in Mysia, West Asia Minor and it was famous in Hellenistic times.
It is located around fifteen miles or twenty-three kilometres inland from the Aegean Sea, some two miles north of the ancient River Caicus which is the modern Bakir çay. The Caicus was the border between the ancient districts of Mysia and Lydia. It is built on the hill one thousand feet high between the two tributaries of the Caicus, the Selinus on the West and the Cetius to the East.
It was a prehistoric city whose pre-Greek name seems to have meant Citadel, which was the same name applied to the fortress of ancient Troy. Its contact with Greek colonists began at least as early as the archaic period but little mention is made of it until Hellenist times (Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, article ‘Pergamum’, Vol. 3, p. 733).
Xenephon and the remnants of his ten thousand occupied it as a prominent city in Mysia (Anabasis VII. 8.8, cf. ibid.). The city issued coins in the fifth century BCE.
The great period of Pergamum began with the successors of Alexander. It was part of the territory seized by Antigonus. In 301 on his death, Lysimachus took control of West Asia Minor. He placed a treasury there of 9,000 talents and placed it under the control of Phyleterus, one of his officers. Phyleterus revolted and sided with Seleucus against Lysimachus in 282 BCE. After the death of Lysimachus in battle in 281 BCE and the death of Seleucus, Pergamum worked its way from a Seleucid vassal state to an independent kingdom under the dynasty founded by Phyleterus (283-263). It was involved with the struggles against the Galatians who invaded Asia Minor from Europe from 278 BCE. It was a friend of Rome and under its kings became a renowned centre of art and learning.
Phyleterus was the first Pagamene king to defeat the Galatians in battle. His nephew Eumenes I (263-241) preferred to pay ransom to them on his succession. But Attalus I 241-197) gained a great military victory over them. Statues were erected then in groups in both Pergamum and Athens. Eumenes II (197-159) won another victory in 167.
Pergamum supported the Roman cause against Macedon under Attalus I. Eumenes continued the policy and supported Rome against Antiochus III of Syria. Despite its pro-Roman policies its importance declined under his successors Attalus II (159-138) and Attalus III (138-133). Eumenes II contributed to its greatness and the library there was second only to Alexandria (ibid., p. 734). The city enjoyed cultural patronage as a dynastic tradition until it was bequeathed to Rome on the death of Attalus III.
The treasure of Pergamum was sent to Rome to its detriment and opposition to Rome developed to the point where it followed Mithradite’s order to massacre Romans in the city in 88 BCE. Pergamum lost its freedom because of this but had it restored again under Caesar in 47-46 BCE.
Under the Roman Empire, although not a commercial centre, it regained its prosperity and became a centre of the cult of Emperor-worship. The cult of Roma and Augusta was established there under Augustus. Later a temple of Trajan was erected on the citadel and another for Caracalla was erected on the theatre terrace. It thus became "thrice temple warden" of the emperor cult and official cult centre in the province of Asia (ibid.).
It lost its library as a gift of Antony to Cleopatra at Alexandria. The bronze statues of the Galatians were carried to Rome by order of Nero. It was spectacular because of its town planning being built in terraces.
It has a spectacular sculptural decoration on the great altar on the upper terrace, which depicted the battle between the gods and the giants. This relief is considered the most important artistic monument preserved at Pergamum (ibid.).
The purpose of this is uncertain. The reference to Satan's throne in Revelation 2:13 is considered not to refer to this altar as some would have it. M. J. Mellink (The Interpreter's Dictionary, ibid.) thinks it most probably refers to the emperor cult established in Pergamum.
The terrace to the north of the altar contained the Athena temple, which, being set in a colonnade courtyard, gave entrance to the great library and which complex was also decorated with the statues of the defeated Galatians.
The city was expanded to the South in Roman times and a covered street on the west slope led to the shrine of Asclepius where Galen worked in the second century CE.
Mellink considers that the early church in Pergamum and its struggles against the emperor cult are mentioned in Revelation 1:11; 2:12. There is no specific historical evidence on the first century CE.
The Roman City lies under the modern town of Bergama.
In Byzantine times when Pergamum was a bishopric, the inhabitants withdrew to the citadel and built a new fortification wall made from the ancient blocks taken from the sculptures of the altar friezes.
There is no real evidence that this city achieved any form of power in succession to Smyrna in leadership of the Church either of the Trinitarian factions or of the Unitarian Paulicians. The conclusion has to be that this message in Revelation is to an era and not to the church at Pergamum proper. However, one can deduce lessons from the wording that the reliance on arms as a citadel seems to have some relevance to the messages that Christ has for the Church. We will see that this is indeed the case.
In order to prove that the messages were to the seven churches here in this place in Asia and not a message to a series of churches over history, the words "which are in Asia" were added to the text in Revelation 1:11 in the Receptus and the KJV. This forgery was without doubt to make it appear certain that the words indeed refer to these seven cities but no such words exist in the ancient texts (cf. Companion Bible fn. to Rev. 1:11). The conclusion must therefore be that it refers to a series of churches that have the authority of God under Jesus Christ as the true Church.
This next period of the Church in prophecy is referred to as the Pergamos Era. This period proceeded from the end of the Smyrna period and the rise of the Paulicians in Asia Minor who often allied with the new force of Islam against their persecutors in the Eastern Roman system. Islam itself arose from a branch of the Church of God in Arabia. There are a series of messages to this church because it covers a long period and has a number of doctrinal problems and also was warlike. That is the reason Christ speaks here of sharp two-edged swords. The Paulicians were in the Taurus Mountains and in the general area of Mesopotamia, which was where the Babylonian system originated. That system was Satan's system.
Revelation 2:12 continues:
"And to the angel of the church in Per'gamum write: `The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. 13 "`I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is; you hold fast my name and you did not deny my faith even in the days of An'tipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality. 15 So you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicola'itans. 16 Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.'
The mention of Antipas is done proleptically and Bullinger holds this to refer to a future witness, as there was none within the Biblical period of this name. The text is thus prophetic and refers to future events and not to historic events of the first century. Antipas is a combination of anti (SGD 473) or "in place of" or "because of" and pater (SGD 3962) meaning "father." It is thus a generic term carrying the same sense as Antipater. It carries in this sense a terminology of meaning martyred because of the father. This was indeed the situation with the Pergamos era. The martyrdoms were carried out there through the Trinitarian persecutions of the Unitarian Paulicians who refused to accept the Trinity enforced through Byzantine rule.
The stone with a new name is symbolic of citizenship. This represents citizenship of the City of God. The story of the Paulicians is found in the General Distribution of the Sabbath-keeping Churches (No. 122) and also Role of the Fourth Commandment in the Historical Sabbath-keeping Churches of God (No. 170).
This church was alive and operating until the nineteenth century and in the twentieth century it suffered martyrdom and the survivors were sent to the gulags in Siberia. It is not operational but survivors are still there.
This brings us to the next era to take over from the Pergamos era. That is the Thyatiran.
Thyatira is a city in west Asia Minor, near the south bank of the Lycus River, and on the road between Pergamum on the NW and Sardis on the S-SE. It lay in the N part of ancient Lydia; at times however it was considered to be in the southernmost part of Mysia.
Little is known of the early history. The city grew in importance when, at the beginning of the third century BCE, Seleucus Nicator re-founded it and, as it appears, settled a group of Macedonian soldiers there. It was never a great city but it was the chief city of the Lycus Valley and developed profitable industries and trade. Inscriptions show that there were numerous trade guilds, including coppersmiths, tanners, leatherworkers, dyers, woolworkers and linen workers. Such guilds must have played a prominent part in the political, economic, social and religious life of the city.
Prominent among the deities worshipped at Thyatira were Tyrimnos, who became identified with Apollo the sun god, and Boreitene, a goddess identified with Artemis. It is possible that the references to the Son of God with "eyes like a flame of fire" and feet "like burnished bronze" are a conscious reference to the claims of the sun god at Thyatira (Rev. 2:18).
Under the Roman Empire the worship of Apollo Tyrimnaios was joined with the emperor-worship cult. Another religious cult was that of Sibyl Sambathe or Sambethe whose shrine was "before" rather than within the city. The theory that Jezebel in Revelation 2:20 was a priestess at this shrine can hardly be true since Jezebel was evidently tolerated by the Church at Thyatira as a member, and was accepted by a minority of these Christians as a prophetess.
It is highly probable that there was a Jewish settlement there. Acts 16:14 supports this conclusion. When at Philippi, Paul, Silas and Timothy, seeking on the Sabbath the Jewish place of prayer, came "to the riverside" "outside the gate," they found a group of "women who had come together," and among them was "Lydia, from the city of Thyatira." She was there as a "seller of purple goods" made in Thyatira, and she was a "worshipper of God," a Gentile who had been drawn to Judaism, probably through contact with Jews at Thyatira, but who had not become a proselyte.
It is not clear when or by whom the Christian gospel was first preached in that city. One possibility suggested by Acts 19:10 is that during Paul's ministry at Ephesus one or more of his helpers or converts went to Thyatira and founded the church there. When the book of Revelation was written ca. 95 CE there was a strong church there (Rev. 2:18-29).
One explanation is that it appeared that at the time of the report a part (a minority) of the Church was following a woman called, symbolically, Jezebel, claiming to be a prophetess. She taught and led them into immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. She was unrepentant and it appears that the rest of the Church was tolerating this. Aside from this explanation we will see there is a much more real and persuasive explanation.
According to the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, three interpretations on this are:
1. The writer [of Revelation] may be denouncing a teaching that physical indulgence has no effect on Christian faith (Acts 15:29). On this false view, sexual libertinism and eating food offered to idols do not effect the Christian's faith or standing with God.
2. Since in the OT idolatry and worship of other gods is described as "fornication:" and since wild feasting and sexual orgies were part of some pagan cults, the writer may be denouncing a laxity in which physical indulgence occurs during active participation in such pagan religions.
3. The 'Jezebel' at Thyatira may have been promoting a sophisticated tolerance toward the many guilds of the city. Every such guild had its patron deities, its feasts, social occasions that could become immoral revels. These need not be taken seriously since every workman must belong to a guild to make a living. He could take its religious rites lightly and would learn to know the realities of life if he shared in the revels and by doing so by actual experience learn the "deep things of Satan".
The problem was not confined to Thyatira. It was found at Ephesus and Pergamum (Rev. 2:6, 14-15). So guilds cannot be the sole explanation. Libertinism was a threat to the Christian faith encountered by Paul and continually in later decades. The pagan world usually lacked a clear sense of monotheism and of the tie between faith and moral living. At times it defended itself by a dualism that excused all physical indulgences as unrelated to spiritual life.
It was hard for a small minority to cut itself off from the friendships and social life that assumed the legitimacy of polytheism and undisciplined physical indulgence. However, the Christian faith was at stake in this decision, and the writer of Revelation pointed to the necessity of breaking with polytheistic and immoral practices (Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, article ‘Thyatira’, Vol.4, p.638-639).
Let us see what we can make of this as we progress.
"And to the angel of the church in Thyati'ra write: `The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 "`I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jez'ebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her on a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her doings; 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches shall know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyati'ra, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay upon you any other burden; 25 only hold fast what you have, until I come. 26 He who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him power over the nations, 27 and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received power from my Father; 28 and I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.' (RSV)
The argument for Thyatira as an era and regarding Jezebel below is much more credible.
And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. 2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. 3 Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. 4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. 5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. 6 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (KJV)
Sardis, a city in west Asia Minor, capital of ancient Lydia, is located in the Hermus Valley (modern Gediz). The best-known feature is an acropolis formed by a craggy rock that is a spur of the Timolus. It also has a temple of Artemis and the cemetery of the 'thousand hills" (Bin Tepe), across the Hermus.
The outstanding architectural relic is the temple of Artemis, to the west of the acropolis. The cult was dedicated to a local Asiatic goddess, identified with Artemis but sometimes referred to as Cybele. The temple was destroyed in the Ionic revolt of 499 BCE when the lower city of Sardis was burned (Herodotus V.102).
The history of Sardis is closely tied up with that of Lydia, whose capital it remained throughout the political problems of the region. There is some evidence for prehistoric habitation; but the leading position of the city must be the development of the Lydian period under the kings of the Mermnad Dynasty. Sardis appears in the royal inscriptions of the Persians as Sparda (Darius, Behistun § 6; Babylonian Sa-par-du), a name designating the Lydian land, as well as the city. Sardis became the most important Persian city in Asia Minor. It lay at the West end of the great royal road that went from Susa across the rivers and through Asia Minor. A branch road led from Sardis to Ephesus (Herodotus V.52-54). The wealth of the city of the Persian period can be gauged to some extent from the jewellery found in tombs of the Pactolus cemetery. Among the gold plaques, necklaces, pendants, bracelets, and seal stones there are excellent examples of Achaemenian artistry.
Sardis may appear in the OT in Obadiah 20 as Sepharad, as a place where exiles from Jerusalem were living during the fifth century BCE.
In 334 BCE the city surrendered to Alexander, who left a garrison in the acropolis. Sardis remained the administrative centre under the Seleucid Dynasty. In the struggle of the usurper Achaeus against Antiochus III the lower city was burned (216 BCE). Sardis was yielded to the Romans in 189 BCE and put under Pergamene rule until 133 BCE. Under the Romans, Sardis became the centre of a conventus iuridicus, which encompassed a large number of Lydian cities. It enjoyed great prosperity in the first three centuries CE. Trade and industry flourished. After the earthquake of 17 CE, Tiberius facilitated reconstruction by his munificence (Tac.Ann. II.24). Hadrian visited Sardis in 123.
From the first century onwards Christianity gained in Sardis. Melito, bishop of Sardis in the time of Marcus Aurelius, wrote a large number of treatises, one of which, a sermon, has recently been recovered in the Chester Beatty Papyri. After the reorganisation of Asia by Diocletian in 297 CE, Sardis became the capital of the revived district of Lydia, seat of the governor and of the archbishop of Sardis, who was metropolitan.
The Arabs conquered Sardis in 716. It continued to be inhabited even after its destruction by Tamerlane in 1403. At present it is the site of a small village, which still preserves the name of Sart.
Sardis is referred to as being dead but is operational as a so-called Christian centre at the return of the Messiah. Once again we cannot be referring to the local church at this site.
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; 8 I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. 9 Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. 10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. 11 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. 12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. 13 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (KJV)
Philadelphia (modern Alashehir) was a Roman province of Lydia. Its strategic location was one of the main reasons for its Hellenistic foundation. A communication link was needed from Pergamum via Sardis and Philadelphia to the Maeander Valley and the south highway.
Coinage began in the second century BCE. Macedonian shields appeared as coin types indicating that a colony of Macedonian veterans lived in the city.
The disastrous earthquake of 17 CE hit Philadelphia. Tiberius came to its aid, and in gratitude the city assumed the epithet of Neocaesarea. Under Vespasian the title Flavia began to appear on coins. From the time of Caracalla the city was called Neokoros (“temple warden”) in connection with the cult of the emperor.
The administration of Philadelphia belonged to the district of Sardis, which maintained its status as the leading city of Lydia. The prosperity of Philadelphia was based on agriculture as well as from textile and leather production. In the fifth century CE the city was nicknamed “little Athens” because of its festivals and cults.
The glory of Philadelphia as a stronghold of Christianity was renewed in the days of the Seljuk and Ottoman attacks on the Byzantine Empire. Philadelphia maintained itself as an isolated Christian city in conquered territory and withstood two sieges with heroism. When it fell in 1391, it surrendered to the combined forces of Beyazit I and his Greek supporters under Manuel II (Interpreter’s Dictionary, ibid., pp. 781-2).
The name means 'brotherly love' and commemorates the loyalty and devotion of Attalus II (220-130 BCE) to his brother Eumenes II.
The city of Philadelphia is alive at the return of Christ and, whilst having little strength, it is highly praised. There are a number of aspects that are praised and a number of promises that are given that require further examination.
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; 15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. 21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. 22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. (KJV)
Laodicea (modern Pamukkale) was located on the ancient highway leading up from Ephesus through the Maeander and Lycus valleys to the east and ultimately to Syria. Pliny gives the earlier names of Laodicea as Diospolis or Rhoas, the latter perhaps standing for a Phrygian village in this area. As a city Laodicea was founded by the Seleucids, presumably ca. 250 BCE by Antiochus II, who named it after his wife Laodice. Because of its strategic location it was meant to be a Seleucid stronghold. In 190 BCE Laodicea came under Pergamenian rule, which meant some decline for the city. However, their prosperity increased under the Romans after 133 BCE when the city was allowed to develop its economic and commercial potential.
Laodicea’s wealth came from fertile land and good grazing grounds for the sheep, textile industry and medical school. The wealth from this prosperous region led to the development of financial operations and banking in Laodicea. The city struck its own coins from the second century BCE on, with iconographic references to the local river gods and cults. The population of the city included Greek-speaking Syrians, Romans, and Romanized natives as well as a prominent and wealthy Jewish contingent. In 62 BCE by order of the governor Flaccus, the annual contributions, which the Jews were accustomed to send to Jerusalem, were seized and sent to Rome. The special rights of the Jews were abolished in 70 CE. That was from the impact of the Jewish revolt at Jerusalem and the consequent destruction of the Temple there. The early Christians in Laodicea had association with those in Colossae and Hierapolis. The city suffered in the wars of Seljuks and Turks and was abandoned soon after the thirteenth century. (Interpreter’s Dictionary, ibid., pp. 70-71)
Its major weakness was a lack of an adequate water supply.
We can thus see that the concept that this city was alive at the return of the Messiah was untrue.
The ruins of the city were not even really visible until its excavations in the last few years. Thus the prophecy must be speaking also of eras and not the specific places mentioned in the texts.
The texts refer to seven churches. Of these seven the first three make no mention of holding fast until Christ comes.
Christ declares himself here as the head of the Church and having the seven stars of the seven churches in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands (candlesticks KJV). Thus Christ is in charge of the system and of the angels of the seven churches.
Ephesus is faithful and has not been misled by false apostles but is told that they have fallen from their first love. They are required to repent or else Christ will come and remove their candlestick from them.
The promise to them is that he who overcomes will eat of the tree of life in the Paradise of God. This is the basis of the comments of the Koran regarding the Gardens of Paradise.
The fact is that the city and the church ceased to exist centuries ago and so we are faced with the fact that they no longer exist and Christ is not going to restore them at his return. We know for a fact that Smyrna took over from Ephesus as the centre of the work of God in the second and third and fourth centuries.
It was Smyrna that opposed the changes in the Church emanating from Rome and it was Smyrna that raised and trained the spokesmen for the Church under Polycarp the disciple of John, and under his successor Polycrates both of whom were involved in the Quartodeciman Disputes (No. 277).
Christ is speaking to the Angel of the Church at Smyrna and proclaims himself as the first and last who was dead and lives again. For a better understanding of this text see the paper Arche of the Creation of God as Alpha and Omega (No. 229).
In this sequence the churches are told that they cannot be hurt by the second death. Those that are martyred will be given the crown of life. As we saw, the ten days of tribulation referred to the persecution of Diocletian long after the first century and centuries after Nero and the scenario of modern critics.
The Pergamos church is considered to be warlike and is infected with false doctrine concerning Balaam and the Nicolaitans (see the papers The Doctrine of Balaam and Balaam's Prophecy (No. 204) and The Nicolaitans (No. 202).
The seat is in Iraq and the Euphrates is dried up to make way for the kings of the East (Rev. 16:10-12). This area was greater than the seat of Smyrna but extended to precisely this area under the Paulicians of the Pergamos era. It is certainly not Pergamum or Pergamos the city.
This church is told to repent or Christ will come to them quickly. Because the Paulicians are warlike he said he would come against them with the sword of his mouth, which is the Word of God in power.
The promise to Pergamos was that those that overcome would be given to eat of the hidden manna (see also John 6:58; cf. Ex. 16:14, 32-34; Ps. 78:24-25). The hidden manna was the food of angels, namely the power of the Holy Spirit and the stone of citizenship in the City of God.
The Thyatirans were given two periods of action and the last was greater than the first. They expanded in Europe and were persecuted over the centuries. The Thyatirans saw the Reformation come and were persecuted by the Protestants as they were by the Catholics before them.
The Jezebel is the church that committed fornication with the kings of the earth. She is the great whore of Revelation, Mystery, Babylon the Great, and the Mother of Harlots. She is the mainstream church of the West who has a series of Protestant daughters and these daughters also represent the system of the Triune God. They will indeed die but they will return to the end Trinitarian system of the Last Days where it will be destroyed.
The problem can only be avoided by claiming that the text refers to the period in Rome in the time of Nero and not to the Church over time but the texts in Revelation show clearly that a church is being addressed. It can only refer to the Roman church system and her Protestant daughters. We can only be speaking of the Reformation period and we must be referring to eras of the Church each possessing separate consecutive authority. There can only be one light bearer at a time and one lampstand.
This church is judged according to its works and the warning is given to all that they are judged according to their works.
Those who have not searched the depths of Satan (cf. 2Cor. 2:11) will be given no other burden. This is the first church to be told to hold fast till Christ comes (Rev. 2:25).
Those of this system that overcome and keep the works of Christ until the end shall be given power over the nations (or Gentiles) and they shall rule them with a rod of iron. The nations shall be broken even as Christ received that rulership from the Father. Thus this church that was attempted to be destroyed by the Gentile churches that corrupted the doctrines with the Mystery cults will be given rulership over them with a rod of iron.
Christ goes on to say: “And I will give him the Morning Star.” This gift is the rulership of the planet as the Light bearers of the planet. In other words they shall be the chief educators of the planet under Jesus Christ who is the new Morning Star from then on.
Sardis is told to strengthen the things that are ready to die. Sardis thinks it is alive and says it is living but it is dead. It took over from Thyatira when Thyatira was persecuted into virtual extinction in some areas. These problems are covered in the paper Role of the Fourth Commandment in the Historical Sabbath-keeping Churches of God (No. 170).
The Church of the Philadelphians has a clean break from Sardis. They are not of its dead works and doctrines.
Christ declares to this church that he is holy and true and that he has the Key of David. He opens and no man shuts and he shuts and no man opens. This refers to his declaration of himself as the Morning Star, Al Tarikh. This power is the open door that he gives them. This church has works even though it has but little strength. It keeps the word of Christ and it has not denied his name.
This church corrects Judaism, and those of the proselytes of the Gentiles that call themselves Jews but are not through false doctrines adopted from the traditions of men. It corrects them for their errors and false doctrines and Christ makes them come and worship or prostrate themselves before this church. Thus this church takes part in the doctrines of the Last Days and the conversion of Judah.
Because this church keeps the word of Christ’s patience, Christ keeps them from the hour of trial that comes upon the whole world. The Sardis and Laodicean systems are not so saved. They go through the tribulation because only individuals of them are saved.
The coming of Christ is very near with the formation of this last system.
This church has a crown and the individuals in it are in that way blessed. Christ promises to make the Philadelphians pillars in the Temple of God. This at first does not sound as dramatic as the promise to the Thyatirans but it is every bit as powerful and more.
The Philadelphians are tried in doctrine and they are responsible for the promulgation of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God in the Last Days and correcting the multiple errors of the Sardis system.
It is this church that is the voice that publishes the affliction or warning of the Last Days as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 4:15-16 RSV); see the paper Warning of the Last Days (No. 44).
These people also are given the name of God and the name of the City of God. In other words they will be called Yahovah as Christ was so called when he spoke with the Patriarchs. They will become elohim in the highest orders with entry to the City of God, which is New Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven. Christ provides to this group his new name and thus his authority.
Christ then says: “let him who has an ear let him hear what he says unto the churches.” That is because Sardis and Laodicea are not listening. Sardis is dead and Laodicea is so lukewarm it is spewed out of God’s mouth.
In speaking with the Laodiceans Christ calls himself “the Amen, the faithful and true witness.” It is in the time of these churches that Christ will come. He says to this church that he is the “Beginning of the Creation of God” (Rev. 3:14) because this system begins to teach that he is not, but rather asserts his co-eternality and co-equality with God.
This error permeates into Sardis at the time of these later churches, but Sardis was free from it for centuries.
The works of this system are neither cold nor hot but lukewarm and because of this they are spewed from the mouth of God. This system compares itself to the others and declares itself rich and in need of nothing and does not realise its own spiritual condition. It is wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.
The only way this church can be restored is for its entire system to buy gold refined in the fire through the power of the Holy Spirit that it may be rich and white raiment that it can be clothed so that no one might see its nakedness.
It is told to anoint itself with eye salve that it might see. It is blind to the truth of the word of God and to prophecy and to the system and the plan of God and His calendar system.
He rebukes and chastens this church in the Last Days in order to get it to repent. He stands at the door and knocks and speaks to individuals. This church also has to deal with the concepts of Al Tarikh or the Morning Star. Christ is the one who comes like a thief in the night as the Nightly Visitant but also as the one who stands at the door and knocks appealing to those who would be called and saved. This sequence is at the very end prior to the marriage supper of the Lamb (see the paper Trumpets (No. 136)).
He then extends repentance to the Laodiceans and any who overcome will sit with him on his throne as he overcame and sat with the Father, His God, on His Throne.
The concept of the Pillars of Philadelphia is that the pillars are the next in importance to the foundation stones of the Temple, which are the apostles of Christ. They are made up of perfectly cut blocks drilled and shaped and inserted with the rods of iron of the Thyatirans and placed so that they hold the general structure of the Temple as a stable edifice. They rest on the foundation of Christ and the apostles and are the central support of the Temple of God. They are the body of Christ fitted together in brotherly love.
This system endures to the end and is rewarded by Christ at his return. No matter what era or system you are in you have to overcome and work to the restoration of the faith once delivered to the saints.
There are elements of every era in each era, but the predominant characteristic of the era is what marks it out and the era has that trait or is recognised by it. Each person has to take warning and overcome their problem and the problem of the era.