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Lowell Brueckner

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Revelation 3:14-22


The Church in Laodicea

14. And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
15. I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!
16. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
17. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
18. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.
19. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
20. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
21. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.
22. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

The Amen, absolute authority

Laodicea, between Hierapolis and Colosse
It is probably the case of most, if not all, of the cities that we are studying, that their history goes back farther than that, which we have described. The cities of the seven churches of Asia Minor are built upon sites of earlier towns. However, we try to find a time, when these cities developed some kind of prominence or acclaim in history. Laodicea was earlier called Diospolis, the City of Zeus, and later Rhodas. Between 261-253 B.C., Antiochus II Theos, a Seleucid king, rebuilt the town and named it after his wife, Laodice. (Some of you may remember the Seleucid Dynasty that we studied in the book of Daniel.) He populated it with 2,000 Jewish families from Babylon, therefore many of its inhabitants were Jewish. At about the time of Christ and continuing into the times of the apostles, they sent 20 pounds of gold annually to Jerusalem for the temple.

Laodicea is the southernmost of the seven churches of Asia Minor, located 40 miles southeast of Philadelphia, approximately 100 miles east of Ephesus and only eleven miles west of Colossae. It lies in the valley of the Lycus River. Laodicea held little importance, until it came under the dominion of Rome, when it became one of the most important and flourishing cities of Asia Minor. In fact, it was the judicial center over 25 cities. It produced and exported fine, black, woolen garments and it was famous for its eye salve. As in Pergamos, there was a great medical school in Laodicea and not far away, in Hierapolis (which also had a Christian church, Col.4:13), there are thermal pools. The nearest modern city, Denizli, is four miles away.

Revelation 3:7-13


The Church in Philadelphia

7. 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 will 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 they will learn that I have loved you.
10. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.
11. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.
12. The one 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.

A history of Philadelphia

Alașehir, Turkey on the site of ancient Philadelphia
Before we consider the historical city of Philadelphia, the message to this church, and what it means to church history, first I want to write of what is pressing upon my heart. Just this morning, I watched while our granddaughter, Jessica, signed to the contemporary Christmas carol, “Noel”, and I was captured by the simple line, “Come and see what God has done!” Yes, look down upon that new-born infant in a manger in a cave for animals by Bethlehem’s inn. See in that little body, Someone that the world had never seen before... Something only God could do: “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Is.7:14).

Immediately after watching Jessica, I opened my Bible to Isaiah 64 to prepare to tape a radio program with expository studies from that great, inspired prophet. The week before we had studied the last verses of chapter 63: “Our adversaries have trampled down your sanctuary. We have become like those over whom you have never ruled, like those who are not called by your name” (Is.63:18, 19).

Now, the prophet cries out with a passionate and desperate, “Oh!” “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence – as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil – to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!” (Is.64:1, 2). It is a call for revival, for a heavenly visitation upon earth, for days of heaven on earth. When I finished, I texted the radio technician at the station, “Pedro, it seems to me that the word for the church today is revival. At least, that is what I am feeling.”

Revelation 3:1-6


Chapter 3

The Church in Sardis

1. And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
2. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.
3. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. I you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.
4. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.
5. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
6. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Alive in name, dead in reality

Sardis, capital of ancient Lydia
We learned that Thyatira was on the north border of a territory called Lydia, which was an important and prosperous kingdom in ancient history, and now we go 30 miles southeast to the city of Sardis. Sardis has a very long history, beginning about the time of the fall of the Assyrian Empire, surviving the Babylon and Persian Empires and then was burnt to the ground by the Greeks. It once was the capital of Lydia and was the first place in the world to mint silver and gold coins.

Alexander the Great rebuilt a temple to Artemis (Diana), which still can be seen today. Sardis became part of the Roman Empire in 129 B.C. and was one of its wealthiest cities, due to its location on the trade route between the Mediterranean and the East. It lay 1,500 feet above the junction of five main roads on a plateau that was almost impregnable, but actually, it was rapidly losing its renown.  Romans improved the temple of Artemis and used it for its Caesar-worshipping cult. However, the temple was never completed. A modern town of 5,000 called Sart is only a mile away from the ruins of Sardis. There is not one Christian in the town. May the sovereign Lord move once again in power over Asia Minor!

Revelation 2:18-29


The Church in Thyatira

18. And to the angel of the church in Thyatira 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 that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.
21. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.
22. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works,
23. and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.
24. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call to deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden.
25. Only hold fast what you have until I come.
26. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations,
27. and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority 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.

A little history of Thyatira

The stones in the foreground are from the castle,
from which Akhisar was named
It is interesting to note that Homer ascribed Asia to a small portion of the territory of Lydia. Later, a large territory was given that name and today, it names the whole continent east of Europe. The Lord Jesus continues to send His messages to the churches in Asia Minor, moving clockwise and now pointing to Thyatira. Thyatira is 38 miles southeast of Pergamos and 32 miles north of Sardis. It is on the border of Lydia and Mysia, smaller territories within Asia Minor, and about 35 miles from the Aegean Sea. It it the smallest church of the seven-candlestick group.

We studied the Seleucid Empire, called the king of the north, in the book of Daniel. Their territory included Babylon and Syria, as well as other territories, reaching into Asia Minor. Seleucus I Nicator was one of Alexander the Great’s four generals, who succeeded him. Seleucus reconstructed Thyatira as a military post and the Romans captured the city in 132 B.C. 

A modern city of 25,000, Akhisar, meaning White Castle, is built over the ancient city. It is still a center of trade and business in the area, as it was in the time of John, because it was on the road leading to Pergamos, Smyrna and Ephesus. Thyatira was known for its production and trade of cloth, particularly purple cloth, which was costly and associated with the rich. There were no great temples to the gods or to Caesar in the city. Apollo was the principle god worshiped there, along with Artemis (Diana) and Asklepius (the healing god).

Ecclesiastes 12


Chapter 12

1. Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;
2. before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain,
3. in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed,
4. and the doors on the street are shut – when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low –
5. they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets –
6. before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern,
7. and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
8. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.

Serve God when you are young

Advice continues for the young. Remember that God will go back to someone’s youthful past, when He begins His judgment. Therefore he gives the very best counsel to the young person. Spend your youth in the fear of God; that is what it means to remember, or to take God into account in all your activities and plans. Remember also that He is Creator and has creator’s rights. Human rights are secondary and only come into play, when the rights of the Creator are met. He has made us for His pleasure, so from childhood to old age, our chief duty is to live for His pleasure and to fulfill His will. We belong to Him and it is a wonderful advantage, when a person from early age, seeks to bring glory to God.

While a person is young and strong, he should give his best days to the Creator. When offering a sacrifice, the Israelite was to pick out the best of the flock or herd, a young animal, to present to God. They were rebuked for offering weak or sickly animals (See, for instance, Malachi 1:6-14). From the first verse, Solomon begins to present the disadvantages and limitations of the elderly, particularly the regret of lost opportunity, which weighs upon the conscience. Someone is unfit for service to anyone, if he finds no joy in living. Godly duty must be joyful so, before that time comes close, let there be pleasant living in the service of the King of Kings.

Revelation 2:12-17


The Church in Pergamos

12. And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
13. I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, 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, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.
15. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
16. Therefore repent. 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 the one 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 that no one knows except the one who receives it.

Pergamos, Satan’s throne

The Pergamos Altar in a German museum
The glorified Lord Jesus continues to address the churches in order, moving clockwise another 35-40 miles to the north and slightly east from Smyrna. The next church is Pergamos, also called Pergamum or Pergamon, about 20 miles inland from the Aegean Sea, and located northwest of the modern city of Bergama, a Turkish adaption of the name Pergamos. The old city is located on a promontory, overlooking the Caicus River from the north. At the time of John, it was another large city in Asia Minor, with a population of about 150,000.

As Smyrna, Pergamos became a major cultural center during the Greek period and the kingdom of Pergamum extended far inland eastward, as well as to the south, almost to the Mediterranean Sea. In those days, Pergamos was even more powerful than Ephesus or Smyrna. Pergamos was renowned for its production of parchment, and the name actually was derived from the name of the city (In English it is not so evident, but in the Spanish language, sit is called pergamino). Also renowned was the library of Pergamon, second only to the library of Alexandria in Egypt. Pergamos was also famed for a shrine to Asclepius, the god of healing, which became a spa, and fostered a great healing cult. Its medical symbol was the serpent entwined on a staff, the medical symbol to this day.  Galen, second only to Hippocrates as a physician, was trained at the healing center. The Romans largely maintained the glory of Pergamos, by constructing large temples, an amphitheater and a large forum. However, it fell behind Ephesus as a political power in Asia Minor.

We should know about the Altar of Pergamos, dedicated to Zeus and Athena, the Temple of Athena neighboring it. The altar was about 120 x 100 feet and was the most famous structure in the city.  Also in the time of the early church, the city had a temple dedicated to Caesar and was a promoter of the cult, which granted divinity to Caesar, declaring “Caesar is lord!”

Ecclesiastes 11

Chapter 11

The fruits of generosity

1. Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.
2. Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.

Chapter 11 begins with an encouragement towards giving to those, who cannot return the favor. Of course, the writer is referring, not to bread literally, but that, which will become bread in the future. He means seed, such as rice, which is cast into shallow water and sinks into the ground. To the unknowing eye, it would seem lost, but actually the planter is sure it will produce in a matter of months. So the one, who trusts in God, knows well that whatever is given in obedience to God for the benefit of others, He will certainly return (v.1). Jesus taught it this way: “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind… because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Lk.14:13,14).

Be generous in giving, as much as you are able. The number seven implies completeness, which in this case means reaching the full measure of your ability, in order to fully supply the need. “Even to eight” means to go beyond what you are able, which suggests giving by faith, trusting God then to meet your needs. Paul commends the Macedonians, who gave “in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord” (2 Co.8:2,3).

Revelation 2:8-11


  The Church of Smyrna

8. 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. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.

The history of Smyrna and Polycarp

Izmir, Turkey, with ancient Smyrna ruins in the center
Jesus begins by speaking to Ephesus, the most notable and dominant church of their day in Asia Minor. The second church that the Lord addresses is Smyrna. It is 35 miles north of Ephesus and slightly east. You will notice that He goes in order around the crude circle of churches, which we have described.

For all practical purposes, Smyrna was built by one of Alexander the Great’s generals, Lysimachus, in the third century before Christ. He controlled Thrace, which today includes, largely, a part of northeastern Greece, Bulgaria and western Turkey. Later, it was used by the Romans as a port on the Aegean Sea and at the time of the apostles, the population reached about 100,000. Between the city and the port was a public square and its outstanding feature was a statue of Zeus, the Roman Jupiter and chief of the gods. The second largest city of Turkey, modern Izmir, stands on the ancient site and only a few places have been excavated by archeologists. A Roman aqueduct, theater and the agora, the public square, remain in ruins. Izmir continues to be a major seaport.