Featured Posts

My New Book on Prayer Released!

I am pleased to announce the publication of my new book:  IGNITING AN IMPASSIONED PRAYER LIFE – How to Develop the Energized, Extended, and Sustainable Life of Prayer You’ve Always Wanted. Do you wish you were more motivated to pray? Is your prayer life sporadic and...

What is the best way to pray?

Prayer, like most spiritual practices, is subject to a spectrum of opinion and conviction as to how it is best practiced. Prayer in a word, means different things to different people. Typically we associate prayer with some form of communication and personal encounter with God....

Leadership Principles and Prayer

When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD… Numbers 11:2 (NIV) Why is prayer often the great omission when it comes to discussion of spiritual leadership? In my humble estimation the topic of leadership is the most frequent focus of...

June 21st, 2017 · by Tom Stuart · Church History, Overcoming, Relationship with God

Jesus’ Letter to Laodicea

To the angel of the church in Laodicea write…  Revelation 3:14-22 NIV 

Laodicea was the seventh and last of the seven churches in the book of Revelation to whom the Apostle John wrote letters. The quite extensive, excavated ruins of Laodicea are located near the village of Eskihisar, Turkey. Strategically situated on seven hills it was founded in 261 BC in the geographical area known as Phrygia by a Greek king, Antiochus II. It was named after his wife Laodice. Remnants of the city include an amphitheater, smaller theatre called an odeon, and the largest stadium in Asia Minor seating 25,000 people. Known as the “Gateway to Phrygia” it was one of Asia Minor’s most flourishing cities primarily because of its trade route location on what was known as the Royal Road which ran from the Susa, the capital of Persia, all the way to Sardis. It was a main banking center for the area, had a medical school, and was a center for the worship of the pagan deity Zeus. It had textile factories supplying the Greco-Roman world with sleeved tunics and hooded cloaks made from the fine black wool supplied by sheep in the area. The city was so wealthy, that when it was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 60 AD, it declined Roman assistance opting to rebuild at its own expense, the only city in Asia to do so.

In the 1st Century AD when the letter was written, Laodicea had a population of 100,000 with a large community of Jews. Both gentile and Jewish converts from this city formed what might be considered a hub for Christianity, located just six miles west of Hierapolis and ten miles northwest of Colossae. The apostle Paul makes mention of Laodicea four times in his letter to the Colossians. From his references we gather his “great concern” for the saints there and an understanding that he knows a number of them personally (2:1). We also know that a colleague of Paul’s named Epaphras, actively ministered there as well as in Colossae and Hierapolis. Some scholars conjecture that Epaphras may have founded the church in Laodicea (4:13). There was obviously a mutual interchange of fellowship and encouragement between the believers in the three cities as Paul urged that his letter to the Colossians “be read in the church of the Laodiceans” (4:15-16).

Now, while keeping this important background information on Laodicea in mind, here is an overview of the letter from the Book of Revelation with some explanatory comments (3:14-22 NIV). It follows the pattern and order used in all seven of the letters as outlined in the introductory blog post on the Letters to the Seven Churches.

1. Revelation of Jesus– “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation” (v. 14). This revelation of Jesus is taken from John’s description in chapter one where Jesus is described as “the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (v. 5). This is a fitting final revelation of Jesus to be cited in the letters and specifically for the believers in Laodicea. It underscores the importance and truthfulness of all that is being revealed as coming from the most convincing witness possible, Jesus Himself. It declares that in the midst of all the worldly temptations, deceptions, and persecutions, Jesus rules overall and is the one to whom we must look for salvation and victory.

2. Commendation– Unlike any of the other churches, there is no commendation given by Jesus to the Laodiceans. This is obviously concerning as it would appear with nothing to be commended, that the church was in a dire condition with regard to its spiritual health. It is as if Laodicea was the “black sheep” of the seven churches, which is an appropriate designation given its renown for its black wool textile industry.

3. Corrective Rebuke – “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 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” (vs. 15-17). Here we see the seriousness of the church’s condition clearly revealed. In Heaven’s eyes Laodicea is “lukewarm” in its devotion to Jesus and “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” What a stinging indictment from Jesus. The tragedy of this church is their own self-deception. Thinking they are “rich” and “do not need a thing” they have fallen prey to the delusion of self-sufficiency and self-accomplishment in the pursuit of this world’s riches, while forsaking what it means to be rich toward God. The worldly Laodicean pride in its economic and cultural achievements obviously infiltrated the church creating complacent, spiritually lukewarm believers.

The use of a water temperature metaphor to describe different types of Christians as either lukewarm, hot, or cold, is one people in Laodicean could readily understand. Situated as a city between the hot thermal pools of Hierapolis to the west and the cool mountain streams of Mount Cadmus to the east, residents knew full well the repugnance of lukewarm water in comparison. By the time their water from the Baspinar Spring located 5 miles to the south traveling by aqueduct and clay pipes finally reached them, the hot water of Hierapolis or the cold water of Cadmus would readily be preferred.

4. Predictive Warning or Counsel““I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent” (vs. 18-19). Here we have the remedy for being “poor, blind, and naked (v. 17). It is instructive to see how Jesus again uses contrasting analogies, this time with natural gold and clothing versus spiritual gold and clothing. Again, Laodiceans would be very familiar with the high value placed on this world’s riches represented by gold and the expensive clothing it could buy, especially the luxuriant black woolen tunics and cloaks manufactured locally. But Jesus pointedly takes what his listeners understand in the natural and challenges them to see it from a spiritual perspective. That which is most to be valued are the true riches of a purity of heart and character represented by the “gold refined by fire” – the remedy for being “poor” – and the “white clothes” of His righteous garments of salvation – His remedy for being “naked.”

The misplaced values of the church in Laodicea clearly indicates how spiritually blind they were. Ironically the city boasted of a medical clinic that specialized in healing eye problems. In fact one of the treatments prescribed for healing was the use of a locally produced salve made from powder produced in nearby Phrygia. Well, lo and behold, Jesus announces here that He has an even more powerful salve, to heal spiritual blindness. As with the gold and clothes, one need only come to Jesus to receive it.

5. Overcomer’s Promise“To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (vs. 21-22. Similar to the overcomer’s promise to the church in Thyatira, here again we see the reward of spiritual authority to those who respond to Jesus’ counsel. The prerequisites spelled out in this letter, for access into God’s presence and a sharing in His rule and reign, are in accord with many other scriptures in which purity of heart, a renewed mind, and righteousness by faith are emphasized. The enduring history of the church in Laodicea indicates many responded to the rebuke and challenge of this letter by repenting and opening the door of their lives afresh to Jesus. For this, as with all seven of the churches, we can praise God for the faithful cloud of witnesses in Asia Minor who took the rebukes of Jesus seriously and chose to be overcomers.

Be sure to check out the four minute video posted above which was filmed at the Laodicea ruins for a first-hand look at this historic city. 

Link to the TomStuart.org Website & Blog

June 21st, 2017 · by Tom Stuart · Church History, Overcoming, Relationship with God

Jesus’ Letter to Philadelphia

To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write…  Revelation 3:7 NIV 

Philadelphia was the sixth of the seven churches in the book of Revelation to whom the Apostle John wrote letters. The only preserved remains of Philadelphia are the pillars of a 6th Century AD Byzantine church located on a city block in what is now the modern city of Alasehir, Turkey. Philadelphia was founded in 189 BC by King Attalus I of Pergamum as a military outpost to protect the junction where two major trade routes intersected. It also was strategically located near the border of Phrygia, where the Greco-Roman world of the West met the “uncivilized” barbarian world of the East. As such it was also intended to be a kind of mission base for spreading the civilized worldview of Hellenism and the Greek language.

The Greek word from which the city’s name derives is a combination of two words, “philo” for love and “delphia” for brother, thus meaning “he who loves his brother.” It was designated as such by Attalus to honor his brother Eumenes in defiance of the Romans who were attempting at the time to drive a wedge between them.

As the city developed and was adorned with many pagan temples and public buildings, it had the distinction of becoming known as “Little Athens.”  Because of the surrounding volcanic soil, conducive for growing grapes, the city was a center for the worship of Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility. The Roman poet Virgil wrote extolling the excellence of the wine of Philadelphia. Under Roman rule during the life of Jesus in 17 AD the city was nearly destroyed when it suffered significant damage when a major earthquake hit the area. Emperor Tiberius, in an attempt to aid in the city’s recovery allowed Philadelphia to remain free from taxation. Other emperors who followed continued that exemption for well over 100 years.

The small band of believers in Philadelphia faced opposition both from Jews and the pagan culture around them, not unlike all the other churches of Revelation. However we see from Jesus’ words that they were exemplary in their response and endurance, putting them in elite company with just one other church, Smyrna. Below is an overview of their letter from the Book of Revelation with some explanatory comments (3:7-13 NIV). It follows the pattern and order used in all seven of the letters as outlined in the introductory blog post on the Letters to the Seven Churches.

1. Revelation of Jesus– “These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open” (v. 7). This revelatory image of Jesus is unique from all the other six churches in that only a portion of it appears previously in Revelation chapter one, specifically the reference to Him holding “keys ” – “And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (1:18b). Although the “key of David” promised to the overcomers at Philadelphia appears to be different from the “keys of death and Hades,” in essence it represents the same thing – the right or denial of access into the presence of God. The “keys to death and Hades” is a denial of access by the authority of Jesus confining the Devil and those who serve him to an eternity separated from the holy presence of God. The “key of David” is all about granting access into God’s presence.

The only other mention of the “key of David,” is in a Messianic prophecy found in the book of Isaiah. There God levels a judgment upon a palace administrator mandating his replacement with a man named Eliakim declaring that he will be given “the key to the house of David” and “what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open” (Isaiah 22:22 NIV). As with many prophecies in the Old Testament that describe the Messiah who is to come, this passage utilizes an historical person and event, in this case Eliakim’s courtyard appointment, as a representation of Christ and some future redemptive action on His part. The authority granted to Eliakim as a gatekeeper to control access into the courtyard of the king of Judah is used to point to the Messiah who is to come who will provide open access into the courtyards of heaven and very throne room of God.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, in fulfillment of this prophecy, He acknowledges His possession of these keys in a conversation with Peter and His disciples. Referring to them as the “keys of the kingdom of heaven“ He promises to pass them on to Peter (and indirectly to all who follow in Peter’s footsteps of faith) when he confesses his acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah (Matthew 16:19).

2. Commendation– “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (vs. 8-9). The open door that Jesus has set before the believers in Philadelphia carries a twofold meaning. First and foremost, as stated above, He has set before them a “new and living way” into God’s presence through His death, burial and resurrection (Hebrews 10:20). Secondly, it is an open door of ministry for them to serve Christ’s purposes in their city and use the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” to preach the gospel. This is an important word of encouragement consistent with the fact that as residents of a city designated originally as an outpost to Hellenize the barbarian world they are now being commissioned as believers to Christianize the Greco-Roman pagan world. He commends their faithfulness, despite apparent weakness and opposition, for using that open door to both dwell in His presence and be His witnesses to the world around them.

3. Corrective Rebuke – None is mentioned which puts them in enviable company with Smyrna as the only two churches which receive NO rebuke. This, as we shall see, is not the only thing this church shares with Smyrna.

4. Predictive Warning or Counsel“I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown” (vs. 9-11). This is the second and only other time in the seven letters where Jesus points out the presence of those in the church who are of the “synagogue of Satan” claiming “to be Jews though they are not.” Smyrna had essentially the same warning which in their case led to many being martyred for their faith. In fact, eleven people from Philadelphia, who were in Smyrna at the time of Polycarp’s martyrdom in 156 AD, also lost their lives. But those dwelling in Philadelphia at the time of this letter, for reasons only God knows, were told that they would be kept from the trials confronting believers the world over if they would but cling to Jesus. Throughout the ages, the contrast between those believers who escape the horrors of persecution and those who must endure it has always been a stark one. Only when we all finally see God face to face can we hope to understand this mystery of why some survive the fire while others perish in it.

5. Overcomer’s Promise“The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (vs. 12-13). The promise of being made a pillar in the temple of God carries with it the express intent on His part to ensure the overcomer will always have a place in His presence (key of David access) as an example of patient endurance for His namesake. It is the highest of honors and an acknowledgement of inestimable worth to be designated a pillar of anything, especially in the temple of God.

Added to that, the promise of having God Himself inscribe His own name and the name of the New Jerusalem upon a believer is a declaration of His claim upon that person as His own treasured possession. It carries with it the stamp of His identity and ownership upon that individual, forever establishing both who they are in Him and whose they are.

Be sure to check out the three minute video posted above which was filmed at the Philadelphia ruins for a first-hand look at this historic city. Stay tuned for more videos and blog posts on the remaining church of Laodicea soon to follow!

Link to the TomStuart.org Website & Blog.

June 16th, 2017 · by Tom Stuart · Church History, Overcoming, Relationship with God

To the angel of the church in Sardis write…  Revelation 3:1 NIV 

Sardis was the fifth of the seven churches in the book of Revelation to whom the Apostle John wrote letters. Sardis is located near the village of Salihli, Turkey. Extensive 20th century archeological excavations have unearthed the ruins of the acropolis with the Temple to Artemis, a Roman era gymnasium complex with baths, Jewish synagogue, and Byzantine era shops. Settled in 1400 BC on the wide fertile plain of Hermus along the banks of the river Pactolus, Sardis developed into a prosperous city known for its fruit, wool and pagan temples of Delphi, Artemis, and Didyma. It became a center for trade as a crossroads of major north/south, east/west trade routes and the western terminus of the Royal Road that linked Sardis with Susa, the capital of Persia. During the reign of King Croesus (560-546 BC) the city’s wealth and fame grew to legendary proportions with the discovery of gold in the river. His father, King Alyattes, is recognized as having minted and distributed the world’s first coins, and so Sardis has the distinction of being the place where modern currency was invented. As a result of the convergence of natural resources and its strategically beneficial geographic location, a culture of prosperity, ease of life, and self-sufficiency marked the city for over 2000 years. In 1402 AD near the end of the Byzantine era, Sardis was completely destroyed by the Muslim Mongol ruler Tamerlane and never rebuilt.

At the time of the writing of the Revelation letter to Sardis, the city of 100,000 people had both a strong Jewish and Christian presence. Tradition has it that the church there actually began through the preaching of the apostle John which gives added import to the letter he is dictating from the mouth of Jesus. Because a large community of Jews made their home in Sardis we can surmise that many of the early Christian converts were Jewish. The synagogue discovered there from the 4th Century AD is the largest ancient synagogue of the Jewish Diaspora. It is noteworthy that Jews inhabited Sardis dating all the way back to when it was the western most satrapy of the Persian Empire and Queen Esther, a Jewess, was the chosen wife of King Ahasuerus (478-465 BC). Her intervention to thwart the edict of the wicked Haman to exterminate all Jews in the empire secured the salvation of the Jews in Sardis as well (Esther 8:1-9:5). With the advent of Christianity the church in Sardis thrived well into the Byzantine era. A man by the name of Melito, known for his “Homily on the Passion” was a prominent bishop in Sardis in 2C AD. When some 27 Byzantine shops and their colonnade dated from the 4th C AD were excavated it was discovered that 6 of the shops were occupied by Jews and 10 by Christians indicating the enduring, if not growing prominence of people of those two faiths in the city.    

 In its long history, two major setbacks marked the psyche of the city in a way that, etched in its memory, may have been brought to mind with the Sardis letter’s stern warning of a surprise judgment from God if they failed to repent. Six hundred years earlier Sardis had been overthrow by the Persians in a strange twist of fate during the reign of King Croesus. The king and his army, blinded by wealth and ambition, became careless in the defense of their seemingly impregnable fortress when a soldier inadvertently exposed a secret entrance by retrieving a dropped helmet. It literally “opened the door” to the fall and capture of Sardis by King Cyrus. That led to centuries of subjugation, first by the Persians, then by the Greeks when it was conquered by Alexander the Great in 334 BC, and eventually by the Romans. The other tragic event that was very fresh in the minds of every inhabitant of Sardis was the devastating earthquake of 17 AD which leveled the city and the surrounding area including another seven churches city, Philadelphia. Only a huge Roman Empire financial investment during the reign of Tiberius made it possible for the rebuilding process and restored hope for the survivors.

Now, while keeping this important background information on Sardis in mind, here is an overview of their letter from the Book of Revelation with some explanatory comments (3:1-6 NIV). It follows the pattern and order used in all seven of the letters as outlined in the introductory blog post on the Letters to the Seven Churches.

  1. Revelation of Jesus– “These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars” (v. 1). This revelation of Jesus is taken from John’s description in chapter one, verses 4 and 16. The meaning of the “seven stars” is of course clear as it is stated they represent the seven churches. There has however been much conjecture as to the meaning of the “seven spirits before his throne” since the Bible makes it plain that there is just one Holy Spirit (1:4). The understanding I most resonate with is the view that the “seven spirits” are the seven attributes of the Holy Spirit as revealed in Isaiah 11:2. Prophesying of the anointing that will rest upon the Messiah it states “And the Spirit of (1) the LORD (Lordship) shall rest upon him, the Spirit of (2) wisdom and (3) understanding, the Spirit of (4) counsel and (5) might, the Spirit of (6) knowledge and the (7) fear of the LORD” (NIV). The acceptance of this view gives us insight into what it means through having a faith relationship with Jesus to live, move and have ones being in the fullness of the Holy Spirit (Acts 17:28). It brings a sense of completeness and the promise of the lack of no good thing when one considers that “God gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34 NIV). Sardis is not the only church that would do well to heed this revelation, as it is only by the Spirit of the living God that His plans and purposes are established (Zechariah 4:6). There must be an utter dependence upon the Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit for any church to walk in victory.
  2. Commendation– “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy” (v. 4). Thank God, He always sees to it, even in the midst of great apostasy, that there is a holy remnant as in the days of Elijah “who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (Romans 11:4 NIV). His revelation of this brings great encouragement to those who feel they stand alone in the face of sinful compromise, and assurance they will have the company of others as they continue to walk with Jesus.
  3. Corrective Rebuke – “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God”(vs. 1-2). This portrayal of a slumbering church at Sardis, relying upon past achievements which have long ago ceased, is sadly all too familiar throughout the Scriptures as it pertains to God’s people. The worldly temptations in Sardis because of its culture of prosperity and ease of life appears to have infiltrated the church in the city leading to its complacency and passivity with regards to the things of God. This corrective rebuke is a universal one, and reminiscent of Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14 NIV).
  4. Predictive Warning or Counsel“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” (v. 3). This sober warning of God’s surprise judgement, like a thief plundering a household when it least expects it, doubtless brought to mind the shock and terror accompanying the earthquake of 17 AD. History seems to indicate because of the longstanding Christian presence in Sardis, that at least for some, this warning did bring a spiritual awakening accompanied by change of heart and renewed dependence upon the Lord in serving Him without compromise.
  5. Overcomer’s Promise“The one who is victorious will, like them (those “who have not soiled their clothes” – v. 4), be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (vs. 5-6). The promise of having your name acknowledged “before the Father and his angels” reiterates the very words of Jesus during his earthly ministry to those who would confess and not deny His name (Luke 12:8-9, Matthew 10:32-33). It serves as an encouragement not only to those in Sardis, but to everyone who thinks of themselves as followers of Christ to fight through the temptation to deny His name, either verbally or through silent conformity when pressured to partake in ungodly behavior. It is noteworthy, that when God sees people like that, He gets out the indelible ink with which to write their name in the book of life. That is the one and only place, when all has been said and done, where every person should want to be sure their name is recorded. It determines our eternal destiny, so, as John is want to say at the end of each letter – “listen up!”

Be sure to check out the three and half minute video posted above which was filmed at Sardis for a first-hand look at this historic city. Stay tuned for more videos and blog posts on the remaining two churches of Revelation soon to follow!

Link to the TomStuart.org Website & Blog

May 4th, 2017 · by Tom Stuart · Church History, Overcoming, Relationship with God

To the angel of the church in Thyatira write…  Revelation 2:18 NIV 

Thyatira was the fourth of the seven churches in the book of Revelation to whom the Apostle John wrote letters. Located in the modern day city of Akhisar, Turkey, the only significant remains of the ancient city are preserved in a fenced area the size of a city block near the center of town. The two major features of the site are the ruins of a Roman columned street and the walls of a 6th century administrative building which is thought to have at one time served as a church. That would not be unusual as the city of Thyatira was almost completely Christianized by 200 AD and continued with a strong Christian presence onward for centuries. Bishops from Thyatira are known to have attended the Councils of Nicea in 325 and of Ephesus in 432. This strong Christian presence and witness endured for nearly two millennium, right up until 1922 when the last vestige of Christianity, the Greek Orthodox population, was deported by the Turkish government.

One of the distinctions of Thyatira, located on the Roman trade route from Pergamum to Laodicea, were the many artisan manufacturing centers with their powerful guilds. In addition to metal craftsmen, coppersmiths, tanners, leather workers, shoe makers, wool workers, potters, bakers, and even slave traders, the most important industry was textiles. The city was famous throughout the empire for its dyeing facilities and was the center of indigo (purple cloth) trade. Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, describes a woman named Lydia whom Paul met in Philippi, as being a seller of purple from Thyatira. Undoubtedly, that was the source of her wealth which enabled her to host the apostle Paul and his companions in her home (Acts 16:14-15, 40).  Some scholars conjecture that Lydia, after her faith encounter with Paul, may have traveled back to her hometown and helped spread the gospel in Thyatira.

The trade guilds wielded great influence among the various artisans of Thyatira. Each trade had its own guild or association of artisans and merchants which controlled the practice of their craft in the city. Functioning like a secret ritualistic society the guilds held banquets in pagan temples where food offered to idols was served, and following the meal immoral acts were committed on the couches upon which they reclined. Christian workers who wanted to prosper in their chosen professions obviously faced grave temptations to compromise their faith. Two of the four prohibitions issued to all Gentile believers at the council of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem in Acts 15 addressed these very issues. They were to “abstain from food offered to idols” and “from sexual immorality” (v. 29 NIV). As we shall see, the letter dictated by Jesus to the church at Thyatira was specifically written for those who had fallen prey to these two compromising deceptions, and to the leaders who were tolerating it.

Here then is an overview of the Thyatira letter from the Book of Revelation with some explanatory comments (2:18-29 NIV). It follows the pattern and order used in all seven of the letters as outlined in the introductory blog post on the Letters to the Seven Churches.

  1. Revelation of Jesus– “These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze” (v. 18). This revelation of Jesus is taken from John’s description in chapter one. “His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace” (1:14-15). Fire is often a symbol of purification and the purity of Jesus’ visage portrayed here offers an antidotal contrast to the impurity infiltrating the church in Thyatira.
  2. Commendation– “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first” (v. 19). This is a description of some remarkably faithful servants of God who obviously laid a solid foundation for a church in this city upon which many succeeding generations of believers benefited.
  3. Corrective Rebuke – “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols”(v. 20). Here we have a reiteration of the crux of the problem facing the church in Thyatira, and the trade guilds were the source of the temptations. The use of the term Jezebel for the self-proclaimed prophetess is a biblical code name for a purveyor of false counsel who seeks to lead others into compromising behavior like the original Jezebel in 1 Kings 16. The correction is directed at the leader for his passivity in tolerating such deception. As a shepherd, the leader must protect the flock from all such spiritual attack and silence everyone promoting false doctrine.
  4. Predictive Warning or Counsel“I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds” (vs. 21-23). This is a very sobering warning to the person with the spirit of Jezebel and her followers. Hopefully it brought the fear of the Lord into their midst. “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28 ESV). ”Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come’” (vs. 24-25). Simple and straight forward advise to the righteous – “keep on keeping on.”
  5. Overcomer’s Promise“To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (vs. 26-29). Righteous attitudes and actions often result in being granted greater measures of responsibility and authority. In this case, as with all Christians, the reward of sharing in Christ’s authority and ruling with Him in heavenly places is promised to all those who maintain a righteousness in Him by faith (Ephesians 2:4-9).

Be sure to check out the two and half minute video posted above which was filmed at Thyatira for a first-hand look at an historic portion of this city. Stay tuned for more videos and blog posts on the remaining three churches of Revelation soon to follow!

Link to the TomStuart.org Website & Blog

April 25th, 2017 · by Tom Stuart · Church History, Overcoming, Relationship with God

To the angel of the church in Pergamum write.  Revelation 2:12 NIV 

Pergamum was the third of the seven churches that Jesus addressed in His letters dictated to the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos. It is located adjacent to the modern day city of Bergama, Turkey, approximately 70 miles north of Smyrna (Izmir). Pergamum, or Pergamon to which it is sometimes referred, was at its zenith a city of 200,000 inhabitants and was briefly the Roman capital of Asia Minor before the capital was moved to Ephesus. Indications are that there was a small Jewish population in the city from which undoubtedly an embattled band of believers grew, in spite of the oppression of the worship of pagan idols and the pursuit of worldly wisdom that engulfed the city.

Pliny the Elder declared Pergamum “the most famous place in Asia” and it was not without reason. At the time the city could boast of being the world center for the worship of the deities Zeus (king of the gods), Asclepius (the god of healing), and Athena (goddess of wisdom). Their shrines, along with temples to other deities, and the massive horseshoe shaped altar of Zeus, the largest in antiquities to which John refers in his letter as Satan’s throne, were all there. The altar’s base is all that remains as the altar itself now resides in a museum in Berlin, Germany. The shrine to Asclepius grew into a famous spa that became one of the most famous therapeutic and healing centers in the Roman world. Galen, a well-known Roman physician, surgeon, and philosopher was born and trained in the city. And if that were not enough, in addition, Pergamum was a center for education with a 200,000 volume library, second in size only to Alexandria, Egypt and a place where calfskin parchment rather than papyrus was first produced routinely for writing. Plutarch, well known Greek historian and writer, started the library and its fame inspired Marc Anthony to gift it to Cleopatra when they wed.

The upper portion of the city known as the Acropolis, was situated on a mountain rising 1300 feet above the valleys surrounding it, and remains the primary area of excavation and restoration of ancient Pergamum. Its commanding position made it a naturally defensible fortress with two royal palaces, cisterns, an arsenal, and barracks. That elevated site, from which all the scenes in the video posted above were filmed, housed four temples, the altar, and the library as well as a gymnasium, an Agora, and a 10,000 seat amphitheater, the steepest and most dramatically situated in the Ancient world.

Here then is an overview of John’s letter to Pergamum from the Book of Revelation with some explanatory comments (2:12-17 NIV). It follows the pattern and order used in all seven of the letters as outlined in the introductory blog post on the Letters to the Seven Churches.

  1. Revelation of Jesus“These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword” (v. 12). This revelatory image is taken directly from John’s description of Jesus’ appearance to him in chapter one where he writes “and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword” (1:16)! We know from other passages in the Bible that the “double-edged sword” specifically represents the Word of God that proceeds from the mouth of God (Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12). Jesus is intentionally arming the church at Pergamum with this mighty weapon of truth because of the rampant doctrinal deception contaminating their fellowship with Him and with one another.
  1. Commendation“I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives” (v. 13). This verse makes it clear that the spiritual warfare in Pergamum was intense, as was alluded to in the description of the city above. Yet in the midst of it all there were many victorious saints, standing firm even to the point of martyrdom. For this Jesus commends them and rightly so! It is enlightening to acknowledge the deceptive work of Satan in a congregation because the real battle is not against flesh and blood but against his demonic spirits and schemes (Ephesians 6:12). Identifying the source of opposition as Jesus does, and addressing it with the spiritual weapons He has given us, is imperative (2 Corinthians 10:4). It is comforting to know that Jesus is with them (and us) and undergirds His church through such trials.
  1. Corrective Rebuke “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans” (vs. 14-15). One of the things Jesus and every writer of the Epistles warns against is deception. As the father of lies, it is Satan’s main ploy to rob Christians of God’s purpose and blessings in their lives. Here the letter calls out two sources of doctrinal error to which some in their midst have fallen prey. As with most doctrines of demons, such teaching inevitably leads to a rationale that excuses and even encourages sinful behavior. Jesus is underscoring the responsibility that the “angel” or leader of this church has to deal with this deception, lest like a leaven, it leavens the whole lump. 
  1. Predictive Warning or Counsel – “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (v. 16). This call to repentance is for both the deceivers and the deceived, as well as the spiritual leader(s) under whose watch the deception is being allowed to continue. Since leaders have a shepherding responsibility to protect the flock, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is saying in essence “If you don’t do something about this I WILL!” And note – it is “with the sword of [His] mouth” they would do well to take heed to use, in accordance with the revelation and spiritual weaponry He has already imparted to them.
  1. Overcomer’s Promise – “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it” (v. 17). There are two very fitting promises here that are meant to spur the church at Pergamum onto victory. First the “hidden manna” represents His sustaining provision to empower them to rid the church of this deception. Nothing is impossible for God. He is encouraging them to do it in His strength and not their own. Secondly, the “white stone with a new name written on it” indicates how precious, like a rare gemstone, the Lord views those who obey Him and remain faithful even unto death. This is in accord with other promises of a “new name” in the Bible which shows the Lord identifying intimately with those whom He loves by drawing them into His confidence and assigning them His own secret name (Isaiah 56:5, 62:2, 65:15, Rev. 3:12). How sweet is that for the Pergamum Christians who are privileged to share in such proprietary mysteries with the Lord Himself?

Most scholars date the Book of Revelation at 95 AD. It is encouraging that historical evidence indicates the church in Pergamum gave heed to John’s letter as it continued to grow and thrive well into the 3rd century. We know in the 2nd century it became an early seat of Christianity with its own bishop, yet not without the continuance of persecution. In 170 AD under the Roman rule of Marcus Aurelius the Christians Carpus, Papylus, and Agathonice were martyred in the amphitheater there.

Be sure to check out the three and half minute video posted above which was filmed at Pergamum for a first-hand look at this historic city. Stay tuned for more videos and blog posts on the remaining four churches of Revelation soon to follow!

Link to the TomStuart.org Website & Blog