Bible Studies For Life

Rich Elligson

Richard Elligson

Richard Elligson is Professor of Missions and Chair of Theology at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives

Session 1

June 6, 2021


Revelation 2:1-7

There are many ways to interpret the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation. Some see them as indicating various time periods in the development and history of the early-centuries church. Others see the importance in the variety of congregations and the unique challenges each one faced. Hence virtually every “type” of church issue is represented in one way or other. But since these churches were actual, existing congregations in Asia Minor, examining the cities they represented and the distinctive challenges each faced seems like a good place to start. Once that is done, we can apply the principles taught to similar situations we face today.

The city of Ephesus was originally a port city; a place of travel, commerce, and culture. Unfortunately, the city was better known for her temples to the pagan deities and her rampant immorality. The goddess Artemis was popularly known as the “Lady of Ephesus,” whose worship included temple prostitutes!

Yet in the midst of this spiritual darkness, a church grew. The gospel had been brought by Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18); Paul served there for over a year, and the apostle John reportedly retired there.

The commendation (vv. 1-3). Like most of the seven letters, the letter to the church at Ephesus begins with some words of encouragement from the Lord Himself, the One who holds the messengers in His right hand and moves in the midst of His churches (v. 1; see Rev.1:20). Four areas are highlighted. First, He commended them for their deeds. The word “works” is generic, referring to the acts they accomplished. The word “labor,” however, indicates heavy toil and struggle. Next, He mentioned their endurance. In the midst of difficulties, they never gave up. Third, He commended them for their discernment, as they tested the false teachers and rejected them. Finally, He commended them for their testimony. In the face of persecution for their faith, they stood strong. For reflection: What kind of reputation does your church have in your community? Is it well known as a church who serves the whole community with humility and integrity?

The condemnation (v. 4). The many words of commendation were followed by a rather terse statement of condemnation. “But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first.” I believe it was Charles Stanley who said, “It is easier to work than to worship.” That’s certainly true. Ask a men’s group to build a wheelchair ramp, and a dozen volunteers show up on Saturday morning. Ask the same group to come for a two-hour praise and prayer session and see who shows! Good works make us feel good. But if we are not careful, we will make our works a substitute for our worship. Somewhere along the way, the hot flame of love for God and for one another had cooled down in the church at Ephesus. Maybe their works had become more important to them than their love. And the Lord Jesus called them out on it. For reflection: Why do you think it is easier to work than to love? What is so hard about loving God and loving others?

The recommendation (vv. 5-7). Fortunately, the merciful Lord explains the remedy needed to restore the church’s fellowship with Him. The response Christ was looking for included three simple steps. First, they were told to remember. Remember where they had come from (see Eph. 2:1-3); remember the magnitude of their salvation (see Eph. 2:4-6); remember the love they shared as a result (see Eph. 4). Second, they were told to repent. Good works are great, but failure to love is a sin! Third, they were told to re-do. The works were to continue but were to be selfless expressions of genuine love, like they were when the church began. For reflection: How do we know if our good works are becoming a substitute for our devotion to God and one another? What warning signs might help us to recognize this sin?

Session 2

June 13, 2021


Revelation 2:8-11

Located north of Ephesus with a deep harbor on the Aegean Sea lies Smyrna, the modern-day Turkish city of Izmir. History tells us the ancient city was settled in 3000 BC, then destroyed in 600 BC. It was in ruins for about 300 years, and then rebuilt by those who succeeded Alexander the Great. That rebuilt city was already 400 years old when John wrote the book of Revelation!

Smyrna was considered the most beautiful city in Asia Minor. It was well designed and efficient; but while it housed temples to the major Greek gods, the city most adored Rome, who rewarded her by allowing self-rule and special treatment.

Smyrna was an educated; a center of science and medicine. But it was a troubled city. What Rome did, Smyrna did. So, when Rome persecuted the early church, Smyrna followed suit. The church of Christ would suffer as a result. Three areas are mentioned:

Deep poverty (vv. 8-9a). Each of the three areas of suffering shared some common characteristics. First, all three were known by the Lord. There are no surprises here. Second, there is always a “but” involved, whether stated explicitly of implied. Third, there are clear applications for the church today. In these first verses, the risen Lord knows the deep poverty the church faced. We have no details, but the implication is that the persecution brought against them involved the confiscation of Christian property, a common practice by first and second century Rome. BUT, the Lord recognized and reminded them that not all wealth is held in material possessions (see Matt. 6:19-20). What material wealth the city could take away was far outweighed by the spiritual wealth the church possessed; a treasure that no one could touch. For reflection: How often have your church people complained they couldn’t do this or that, because they couldn’t afford it? How do you think losing everything they owned would impact their relationship with the Lord?

Devilish people (vv. 9b-10a). The second area of suffering came from vicious attacks from false teachers. Again, the details here are sketchy. Slander is the same word as blasphemy. While posing under the guise of religious piety, they apparently brought false testimony against both God and the church. The phrase “synagogue of Satan” is particularly harsh. Whereas the synagogue was supposed to be a place of Jewish worship, these false teachers made it a place of Satanic influence and vicious attack against Christ’s own. BUT: believers in Smyrna were told not to be afraid. Just as Christ knew of the suffering that awaited, He also knew about the outcome. For reflection: Can you think of other places in Scripture where those who were considered the most righteous were in reality the most vicious? What effect does such hypocrisy have in the life of the church? 

Determined persecution (vv. 10b-11). Three things are pointed out here. First, as a result of the attacks from the “synagogue of Satan,” some of the church members would be imprisoned. Second, the purpose of this would be to testthem. On the side of the devil, the test would be to discourage and dissuade them from their faith. But on God’s side of things, the testing of their faith would strengthen them (see James 1:2-4). Third, the suffering would be only for a period of time. The stated ten days is likely not to be taken literally, but the implication is clear: the suffering would be temporary, with a definite end. BUT: while the suffering would be temporary, the reward would be eternal. Those who endured it would receive the crown of life and immunity from God’s further judgement, which is the second death. For reflection: Notice how often the course of human events is interrupted by God’s “but.” Are there other times in Scripture when this has happened? Are there times in your own life when you can see that the same thing occurred?

Session 3

June 20, 2021


Revelation 2:12-17

Pergamum (or Pergamos) was located about 50 miles north east of Smyrna, about 15 miles from the sea. As the capitol of Asia, it was considered Asia’s greatest city.

Pergamum was known for two main things. First, it was known for its library. With a reported 200,000 handwritten volumes, it was the second largest in the world (the largest was in Alexandria, and the rivalry between the two ended with Egypt cutting off the supply of papyrus which was used as paper. The result was that Pergamum developed a new writing material made from animal skins called parchment).

The second thing that Pergamum was known for was its temples to pagan gods, including a temple to Zeus, the highest of the Greek gods. Like Smyrna, this was another city that idolized Rome. In Pergamum stood the first temple ever dedicated to worship the emperor (Augustus), built 30 years before Christ was born. The atmosphere proved to be a challenge for the struggling congregation there.

Commendation: Courage (vv. 12-13). Christ’s commendation of the church involved their courageous commitment to both Christ Himself and the Christian faith in a very difficult place. Two terrible characteristics stand out. First, the devil dwelt there! In fact, the Lord indicated that Satan’s throne was in the city. This might refer to the temple for Zeus, the highest of the Greek gods, or to the temple dedicated to the Roman emperor. In any case, the presence of Satan was so strong, it was as though the devil himself both dwelt and ruled from there. Second, death dwelt there. We don’t know anything about the Antipas mentioned, other than his faithfulness, and the death he suffered as a result. Interestingly, the word witness (v. 13) is the same word for martyr. For reflection: In these culturally tumultuous days, what are some ways that your church family stands for what is right? Do you think your own convictions are worth dying for?

Condemnation: Carnality (vv. 14-15). While the church as a whole held fast to Christ and His doctrine, false teaching was infiltrating the congregation. Both examples mentioned involve worldliness. The teaching of Balaam comes from the story in Numbers 22-24. Essentially, Balaam committed two grave sins. First, he thought his influence as a prophet of God could be bought and sold. Second, he suggested to the enemies of God’s people that they entice them with immorality. In Pergamum, these ideas were further corrupted by the teachings of the Nicolaitans (v. 15), whose lives were renowned for worldly indulgence. Together, the indication is that the church in Pergamum was carnal, allowing the world’s sinfulness to creep into the congregation. For reflection: While the church is living in the world, we are not to be enticed by the world. What are some ways that you think the “world” has infiltrated the church? At what point should the church push back?

Correction: Re-commitment (vv. 16-17). It’s difficult to think of the two-edged sword (from verse 12 above) without equating it with the word of God which, according to Hebrews 4:12, penetrates “as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hence, the Lord uses the standard of His word to convict and correct the carnality demonstrated by the church. The Bible cure for all sin remains the same: repentance. There is an interesting shift in pronouns in verse 16. You repent, or I will come to you quickly and fight against them. The idea is that the church has the responsibility of purging carnality from its midst. But if that doesn’t work, the Lord will purge the guilty ones with the righteous judgement of His word. For reflection: What is the best way to purge worldliness from your church? Has your church ever exercised church discipline on a member or members? What do think would happen if it did?

Session 4

June 27, 2021


Revelation 2:18-29

It’s interesting that the longest letter to the seven churches is written to the smallest city. Thyatira was the northernmost of the seven cities of Revelation. Situated in a level plain, the city had no natural fortifications. As the gateway to Pergamos along the road to the southwest, Thyatira had been settled to hold off encroaching armies headed to the capital city of Pergamos. In other words, if an attack came, they were to hold off the enemy army long enough to warn Pergamos of the impending danger. There was a sizable fabric business in the city and their production of purple goods was well known. Unlike the other cities, there were no notable temples there for the major pagan gods, but strangely enough, the city was known for both its labor unions and the wild parties those labor unions threw!

As is often the pattern, the Lord begins with a commendation, follows it with a condemnation, and ends with a correction.

The commendation: spiritual maturity (vv. 18-19). We do not know for sure how or when this church was founded. We do know that one of the city’s citizens was Lydia, the seller of purple fabric who came to Christ under Paul’s ministry in Philippi (see Acts 16:14). It is certainly possible that Lydia or some of her family started the church in Thyatira or were even active members there when this letter was written. The characteristics listed are certainly commendable! The works mentioned (v. 19) are paired nicely. Their love toward God was demonstrated in their faithfulness to Him, and their service to God and each other was demonstrated by their continued perseverance in it. But the emphasis here is in the final statement. That their latest works were greater than their previous indicates obvious progress in their spiritual growth and maturity. For reflection: What are the signs of spiritual growth and maturity in a congregation? Are works the only indication? How mature do you think your church is? Do you see progress in that area?

The condemnation: sexual immorality (vv. 20-23). While the temptation is to make these verses metaphorical, the description is graphically literal. Apparently, the church tolerated sexual immorality centered around a particularly manipulative woman. The Lord referred to her as Jezebel, whom we recognize from 1 Kings as the wicked and manipulative wife of Ahab the king. The “Jezebel” of Thyatira was a self-labeled “prophetess,” who seduced gullible church members with false teaching as well as sexual licentiousness (v. 20). Her refusal to repent would result in the suffering and death of those she seduced and those associated with her (vv. 21-22). The whole sordid situation was made even worse because the church knew about it…and did nothing to stop it. God’s judgment would not only punish the guilty but would send a strong warning to the other churches (v. 23). For reflection: What happens when an immoral situation simmers within a church body? How do you think it might affect the rest of the churches in your area? Why do you think some churches might be reluctant to “deal” with these types of issues?

The correction: stay the course (vv. 24-26). Here, God’s severe judgment of the guilty is countered by His mercy for the innocent. Those who had no knowledge of the immorality going on in their church and who had not fallen into the woman’s sordid snare were freed from responsibility and therefore freed from His judgment. They were however, challenged to “hold on” to the good they had and to continue their spiritual growth until His return. For reflection: Is God required to spare the “innocent” from His judgment? If so, under what circumstances? If so, then why do so many innocent people still suffer?

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