Discover how Jesus’ messages to first century brethren have relevance for you today.
[Darris McNeely] When the government tells you you can't go to church, what do you do? It's a real question today. Yet, Jesus Christ has a message for his church. He sent it by the hand of John the Apostle in the biblical Book of Revelation, and He still sends it to you and me today. It's called the message to the seven churches. Do you hear it?
In Canada, churches have been shut and in some cases, police actually entered churches to enforce mask and social distancing laws. In the United States there were some churches that actually went to the Supreme Court of the United States to rescind laws that were preventing their assembly. All of this happened during the first wave of the COVID pandemic. Religious freedom and expression were actually restricted in many countries. The question is what might be next?
The reality is that there are some very powerful forces gathering against religion and people, who hold to a belief in God and the Bible as His word. Religion and faith in the public arena are actually being canceled. If you consider the Bible to be the source of revealed truth, which I do and many of us do, this is a very dark moment. This is actually a moment to awake and to watch. The nations are actually being shaken and there is a great uprooting and overturning taking place. Our world is actually going through multiple upheavals at many levels and biblical truth is under assault. And those who hold this book, the Bible, as sacred and divine, a revelation from God, are actually experiencing a relentless challenge to their faith whether a congregation's right to assemble or, in some cases, to refuse to actually bake a cake that might violate one's faith.
Understand this, truth, biblical truth, pure unvarnished divine truth is crying out today almost as if it's personified. It lifts its voice in the high places. It stands in the roads and in the highways before the seats of those who hold power and govern, seeking any who will listen. Truth seems to be calling for anyone who will hear and understand among the peoples of our lands today and it's as if truth is saying, hear me, hear what is spoken, wisdom, understanding can be found. There's a way that prevents suffering. The broken-hearted can be healed. Liberty can be heard, and free those who are held captive to pain, to fear. Wisdom can be learned to give light and beauty to those who might be blinded by ignorance. That's what truth seems to be saying today.
This is a moment, it's a time to hear and to understand. On Beyond Today we explained today's world from a view of the word of God. And as we look at the Bible as that revealed instruction from God, we know that the Bible grounds us in truth, in faith, in confident hope of a future of peace and of justice and of fairness. And this is what the world yearns to see. This is what so many people cry out for. Isn't it what you want?
You know as I look around, like so many people who view what is taking place in recent months in our world, I'm stunned by the events that continue to morph and shape our time. I want to understand. I'm concerned. I'm not fearful, but I do want to understand what is happening and why. I really want to know how to respond as God wants me to respond, as God tells me to respond in this book, His Bible. The last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, has a scene in the opening verses where Jesus Christ stands in the midst of seven candlesticks. And He lays out a prophecy of events as He says that will shortly take place. He says the time is near for the unfolding of the events that he begins to foretell in the Book of Revelation.
Now I've read the Book of Revelation many times and every year I get the opportunity to teach it. It is the final prophetic book of the Bible. And in that book, there are mentioned seven different church congregations all of which existed at the time the apostle John received the Revelation from Jesus Christ, there in chapters two and three of that book. Those messages to those seven churches are very relevant. They're very important to the church today even though they were given 2,000 years ago. They're relevant because they were given by the living Jesus Christ who is the head of the church and the church is His spiritual body. The church is a spiritual body of believers who are bound together by the indwelling power of God's Holy Spirit.
As I've been familiar with the Book of Revelation, been watching events and knowing other people have been as well and wondering how they might fit into the book of Revelation and all these upheavals, I came to a point in my mind. I determined that I wanted to dig a little deeper into Christ's message to His church 2,000 years ago. So I decided to go to the locations of those seven congregations that you can visit today and to see if what Christ said in those messages have something to understand today. Because I want to know what that message is, what it means to us today in the church and for this world.
On my trip I discovered certain keys of understanding the challenges that are faced by believers today, those who believe in the Bible and God. And I found that the teachings and the warnings that Christ gave those churches are very relevant to understanding today's world and what's taking place around us, especially in recent months. So what I'm going to do is to begin to give you an overview of the message to the seven churches in this particular program. And then in subsequent programs, we will examine in detail each of those congregations and the message that Jesus Christ gave to those congregations. And when we're finished you're going to understand how the messages to Christians who were facing the full force of the Roman empire in their day, how that speaks to us today in the 21st century.
You see it's not by chance that Jesus picked that moment at the end of the 1st century AD to give the message of the entire Book of Revelation, but to speak to those seven congregations. It was indeed a very dark moment for people of faith, for people who were a part of the Church of God. The faith that was once delivered was under assault. There were heretical teachings that had infiltrated the church and Christians were attacked for their belief and their practice. The government of the day, the Roman Empire, was intruding more and more into everyday life. It was very hard for one who believe the message of God to obey God in a time when truth was indeed scarce. And so that's where we're going today's program and for other programs beyond this time.
We have a study guide that we've put together called "The Book of Revelation Unveiled" which is going to help to be a guide to what we're going to be discussing, not only with the messages to these seven churches but to the entire Book of Revelation as we go through these programs. Our free study guide on today's program, "The Book of Revelation Unveiled," you can say that the Book of Revelation for some is very difficult to understand. Many people have pushed the Book of Revelation aside because they just can't understand it. Yet it is perhaps the most important book of the Bible to properly understand, and can be. The word revelation actually means reveal. So this study guide, written in a way that will help in a non-technical manner to understand what the book is all about, is yours. You can get a free copy of it by calling the number that is on your screen, or by going to beyondtoday.tv, downloading and ordering a copy at this time.
Let's go and look at these messages to these seven churches. Today, as I did, you can visit the seven locations where these churches existed in the nation of Turkey. Remains of most of them are visible. And you can, even by visiting, help you to understand the relevance of the message that is found to these seven congregations in the Book of Revelation.
This map here shows the seven, beginning with the city of Ephesus down on your lower left there. They are in what was called Asia Minor at the time of the writing of the Book of Revelation, which was under the rule of the Roman Empire. In Revelation, they are actually listed in a particular order beginning with the city of Ephesus, going to Smyrna and beyond. They correspond to an ancient mail route. And so that's why it begins and it moves through those two chapters in Revelation that way. Each of these locations today has a different modern name. And as I said, you can see remains of most of those ancient cities on a visit to Turkey. When we read the message to the churches of this region, about 40 years has passed since those churches were founded, during the ministry of the Apostle Paul in this region. 40 years have gone by when Jesus begins to talk to them.
Think about that. An entire generation of people almost have begun to leave the scene. Members and leaders who may have been there at the beginning are older or have died. The church is impacted by this. Heresy has also crept in. Different teachings have been introduced into the church. And also, there's persecution from the Roman government which is continuing to mount. And the members are pressured from all of these attacks, yet they are holding firm, firm to the faith. And Christ appears to the apostle John, in the first chapter of Revelation. And a very loud voice that he hears, and he turns and he sees the glorified Christ. And Christ says, take this message to the churches. Say to them I'm going to guide you through this storm. I have overcome this world and I will help you be victorious. I will help you win. That's what He says. So let's begin a very brief synopsis of each of these messages to these churches. Each again with a distinct location and descriptions as to the state of their spiritual wellbeing that characterizes them.
The first is the church at Ephesus, sometimes called The Loveless Church. Here's what Jesus says in brief. "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write, 'I know your works, your toil, your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, you found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, you have abandoned the love you had at first.'" Your first love. Ephesus had grown weary. 40 years, remember, has gone by, of faith. They'd lost some of their zeal. And Christ urges them to repent and to return what He calls their first love. He concludes this with encouragement. He says, "He who has an ear, Let him hear what the spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."
Each of these messages ends with a note of encouragement that we'll see. The second congregation the scriptures address is that of Smyrna. Smyrna was going through a great deal of persecution and Christ says to them, "I know your tribulation, your poverty, and the slander of those who say that are Jews and are not." But He says they are of a synagogue of Satan. "Don't fear what you are about to suffer," He says. "Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into the prison, that you may be tested, for 10 days that you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life." Pretty bitter time going on here for the people in the church at Smyrna. There were persecutions and there were martyrdoms. It's a part of the record. The conclusion though, again, is one of encouragement. Christ says "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 third church on the list is that at Pergamos and Christ says "The words of him who has the sharp two edged sword," Christ says, "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." Twice that phrase comes up to this church. "But I have a few things against you, you have some who hold the teaching of Balaam," a figure from the Old Testament, "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."
Pergamos was located on an imposing mountain, pagan temples to the gods and to the chief god, Zeus, were there. Indeed, there's a reason. Christ says you dwell where Satan dwells to the people at the city of Pergamos. But again, He concludes on a note of encouragement. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says. 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."
Next up in the order is Thyatira, a church that was corrupted by compromise. Christ says, again, "I know your works," I know what's going on with you, "your love, your faith, your service, your patient endurance, and that your later works exceed the first. But I have something against you, you tolerate that woman Jezebel." There was another reference to a figure from the Old Testament. "Who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of all of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into a great tribulation unless they repent of their works. 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." Again, the conclusion. "The one who conquers and keeps my works to the end," Christ says, "To him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron." Christ gives correction, but He also gives encouragement to each of these congregations.
Next up is Sardis, sometimes called a dead church. He says, "I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you're dead. Wake up, strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember that you received and heard. Keep it, repent. If you will not wake up," there's that word again, that they are to wake up, "I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you." The church at Sardis had a problem with complacency. They thought they were impregnable. They actually had a high mountain as part of their city. They thought no one could conquer them. Actually, they were conquered twice in history. And the church could understand that illusion. Again, Christ concludes with encouragement. "The one who conquers will be clothed with 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.
Next is the church at Philadelphia, a church that actually gets a pretty good report card. They're a faithful church. "I know your works," Christ says. “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 you have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say they are Jews and are not, but lie, I will make them to come and bow down before you, and they will know that I have loved you." And He encourages them again in the same way. "I will make you 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, the name of the city, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name."
The final message is to the church of Laodicea, a lukewarm church. Interesting church message and interesting congregation. Christ says, "I know your works, you're neither hot nor cold. Would that you were either hot or cold. Because you're lukewarm, I'm going to vomit you out of my mouth. You say I'm rich, you've prospered, you don't need anything, But you don't realize," Christ says to them, "You're wretched and pitiable, poor, blind, and naked" Laodicea was a very wealthy congregation, a very wealthy city. They didn't know that they were spiritually impoverished. But again, Christ offers hope. "I will grant him who overcomes the ability to sit with me on my throne, as I've conquered and sat down with my father on his throne," so will you. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches."
I said before that Christ chose this moment, the end of the 1st century, to give this Revelation to the churches it was not by coincidence, there's a reason. There was a level of unity and cohesion among those congregations at that time. But the pressures were very strong. It was the last moment when Jesus could deliver a message to them, that would apply not just to them but to the churches through the ages for all time. The timing was not by accident and the church needs to hear this message now. We need to hear this. This is the message to hear, to understand what comes next in history. This is the message that can help all of us stand with the armor of God in this great time of spiritual battle.
The booklet that we are offering to help our audience and all of us understand this Book of Revelation is "The Book of Revelation Unveiled." I use this guide every year when I'm teaching students at our Ambassador Bible College. It's very easy to read, understandable, non-technical. You can get a free copy of this by calling the number on your screen or going to beyondtoday.tv. Again, it's a booklet that I find has stood the test of time for us in helping to gain an understanding and a good overview of the Book of Revelation. You want to get a copy of that.
I said that very powerful forces are gathering right now against people who hold a belief in the Bible and God. Religion in the public arena is being canceled at some places. Oppressive government, spiritual confusion, and very deep cultural immorality, all of this was present in the 1st century and it's present today in the 21st century, and it's only going to grow worse. Consider morality. 40 years ago, there was a movement called the Moral Majority among evangelical Christians. It was very powerful. In fact they were powerful enough, they feel, to have elected their own favorite candidate for president of the United States, Mr. Ronald Reagan. Today the Moral Majority does not exist, went out of business, they lost. They lost the moral war within the larger cultural war of the Western nations. But today, history is moving quicker. Today, the majority of Americans are actually sympathetic to same-sex marriage and other aspects of the LGBTQ movement. It is accepted today as settled law within the United States. And the moral upheaval isn't over.
At the present rate, it won't take 40 more years to see something worse. Here's why I say this. For those who believe the Bible is the revealed word of God, that contains moral and ethical teaching and condemns all forms of sexual immorality, adultery, illicit sex, homosexuality, all of this is condemned in the Bible as sin. Well, for many, that's rapidly becoming hate speech. We're living in the days described in scripture as perilous. "Times when men will be lovers of themselves, money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful and unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control and brutal, and despisers of good and traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power." Those are the words of the apostle Paul from 2 Timothy 3 and that passage describes the branding and the marketing process going on all around us today.
Today parallels the age when Christ sent His Revelation to the seven churches that we just discussed. Immorality was enmeshed in all parts of that culture. A follower of Christ had to separate himself from that lifestyle. It was a constant challenge for young and for old. Spiritual truth was under attack. And the true faith that Christ had placed in His church, through His apostles, was being undermined. The spiritual confusion from the world was creeping into the church, beginning to erode truth. False teachers were creeping into the church and the crushing presence of the Roman government was putting pressures on members to offer sacrifices to the cult of the emperor worship.
It's difficult for us to imagine how much a part of life in that period was dedicated to the worship of gods and the goddesses. Nothing in civil life was without a connection to a worship of a particular god. The success of your business was tied to worshiping a God who was a patron of that business. The tipping point came when the dead Roman emperors were considered gods and temples were erected in their honor and it was expected that each citizen would offer a sacrifice to that god. By the time of the writing of the Book of Revelation, the cult of emperor worship represented a government intrusion of significant proportion. What we're seeing today parallels that time. The emperor Domitian desired worship as a living God and John and others would not buckle. It was the reason John was exiled to the island of Patmos. Oppressive government, spiritual confusion, and deep cultural immorality, all were present in the 1st century, all are present in the 21st century, and it's going to grow worse.
The question is how will you react? How will we deal with it? This is the moment to consider Christ's message through the Book of Revelation. This is a moment for us all to recognize that Christ stands in the middle of His spiritual body, and He has a message to us. John recorded that message. Christ says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. What you see, write in a book and send it to those churches, from Ephesus all the way to Laodicea." And Christ said, "I am he who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive. And I have the keys of the grave and of death. Write those things which you have seen, the things which are, and the things which will take place after this."
Christ stands in the midst of His church with a message of hope and courage and it's a message we're going to explore in depth in subsequent programs. If you haven't already written down and gone for the copy of our booklet on Revelation Unveiled, now is the time to do that. It's free, call the number on your screen or go to beyondtoday.tv. The message of Revelation and of the seven churches is a critical message for us to understand now. The next program in this series will explore that message to the church at Ephesus.
[Narrator] Please call for today's free offer, "The Book of Revelation Unveiled." Maybe you find Revelation to be a confusing book. This free study aid will make it clear. It doesn't have to be a mystery. This booklet lays out the story flow of the Book of Revelation. You will learn the meaning of the seven trumpets, the mystical beasts, Armageddon, and the day of the Lord. Order Now. Call toll-free, 1-888-886-8632. Or write to the address shown on your screen. When you order this free study aid, we'll also send you a complimentary one year subscription to our Beyond Today Magazine. Six times a year, you'll read about current world events in light of Bible prophecy, as well as practical knowledge to improve your marriage and family. Call today to receive your free booklet, "The Book of Revelation Unveiled" and your free one-year subscription to Beyond Today Magazine. 1-888-886-8632 or go online to beyondtoday.tv.