Pergamum: The Church so Close to Hell, Part 2

God’s People must stand firm where they are!

2:13 “‘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.

The Risen Christ says to the Church at Pargamum — I know where you live — To other churches, Christ says “I know your works.” To Pergamum he says that he is aware of where they live — their environment and living conditions.

Christ knows our struggles against culture, false religion, and ungodly government officials. We must take courage from this fact if we feel so close to hell in our struggles against Satan. We must turn our life into a rescue shop for others. 


The place where Satan’s throne is may refer to the citadel where the temples were or generally to the presence of idolatry throughout the city. Many take this as a reference to the Emperor Cult (see picture of the Altar of Pergamum above).

Pergamum had so far had only one martyr — Antipas. Scholars correctly see that widespread persecution had not yet arisen against Christians in Asia Minor. It was spotted and varied in intensity. However, John with prophetic insight sees that Antipas’s martyrdom is a specimen of what is to come in the 2nd Century. [see Fee below].

God’s people must resist teaching that goes against God’s Word. vs. 14-15

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.

The un-churched (unsaved), will never be reached by a watered down teaching and preaching. We will never attract the youth to Christ mimicking Hollywood and secular musicians. I was quite disturbed a number of years back when students introduced themselves to the class as “ex-Christians.” They were from mainline churches that had accommodated their message and techniques to the world. I John 2 applies to us —

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world.
17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (see ESV below),

The false teaching at Pergamum is described as the teaching of Balaam — cf. Numbers 22:1-25:9 (click on the scripture reference if you wish to read this passage in full).

Balaam is a prototype of all corrupt teachers who betray believers into fatal compromise with pagan religions in exchange for money. Balaam would not curse God’s people directly, but he suggested a way to corrupt them so God would curse them. Balaam’s name became a biblical catchword for false teachers who for financial gain sought to influence God’s people to engage in ungodly practices (Deut. 23:4; Neh. 13:2; 2 Pet. 2:15; Jude 11). [See Beale, p. 66, below]

Balaam’s error involved eating food sacrificed to idols — participation in pagan idol feasts. These were connected to the trade guilds (collegia in Latin) that people had to be a member of to find work. The attempt of certain groups to work out a form of compromise, so essential to the social comfort, and indeed livelihood of many Christians, led to the strong reproaches of 2 Peter, Jude, and Rev. 2-3.  [see Trade Guilds below]

Balaam’s teaching also involved sexual immorality — a part of the “worship” in pagan temples and trade guild meetings.

Balaam’s error is linked with the Nicolaitans at Pergamum. “Balaam” in Hebrew means “to conquer the people.” It was probably similar to the Nicolaitan error. Nicolas means “overcomer of the people.” [see Beale below]

God’s people cannot tolerate in the Church those who lead others astray. vs. 16

16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.

Note that there is a distinction between “you” and “them.” The judgment is to fall on those who follow Nicolas and Balaam, not the faithful who shun them. 

God rewards his faithful followers with intimate fellowship with Himself. vs 17

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.

Symbols from the Old Testament are used to describe the reward of the righteous who do not succumb to false teaching. Hidden manna pictured the sufficiency of Christ in contrast to the allurements of the world. This is intimacy of fellowship begun here and consummated in glory hereafter. The figure comes perhaps from the hidden pot of manna placed within the Ark as a memorial in Moses’s day.

Contents of the Ark

The white stone is a little bit more enigmatic.  The figure could possibly come from the custom of judging by placing a white or a black stone in a urn. The white stone meant acquittal and the black one meant guilty. Also, white stones were given as tokens of admission to banquets.

The Risen Christ promises to give them a new name. “Name magic” was strong in the East of John’s day. If one knew a god’s name, one could use it to gain influence and power from that god. This “new name” could be the name of Christ revealed to the Christian. It also could be a “new character” given by Christ to the believer at his/her conversion. Remember, Abram (“exalted father”) became Abraham (“father of many nations”) after his religious conversion.

Christ promises His Presence with His people in time and in eternity.

All these cryptic symbols point to the fellowship we will share with Christ in Glory! It has already begun here below in part, but will be to the fullest in the hereafter.

Here is a traditional version of Anne Ross Cousin’s old hymn. (Lyrics are on screen) 

Mrs. Cousin had become enamored with Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661). She set parts of his diaries from his prison stay in Aberdeen, Scotland, to verse. She wrote this hymn from his experiences recorded while imprisoned there for the Gospel’s sake. Rutherford famously said,

“I would be content to live in this prison cell forever, if only I could see Christ through the keyhole every thousand years.”

No wonder he signed his letters, “God’s Palace, Aberdeen.”

God has many ways of revealing himself to his people that compensate for their sufferings and tribulation! 

Application Chart of the Pergamum Letter to Us Today

Pergamum Application Chart

We see in the Letter to Pergamum the same three areas we’ve seen in Ephesus and Smyrna Letters:

I. Christ commends us when we stand firm in the face of evil all around us.

Some today are dying for Christ in the dark places of our world — Asian dictatorships; Middle Eastern oppressive countries; chaotic African countries with marauding gangs of thugs.  Others are suffering deprivation, torture, chemical injections, etc. Christ urges us today through this letter to stand firm in the face of evil. We must also pray for those who are experiencing persecution. Hebrews 13:3 “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”

II. Christ urges us to stop listening to false teachers.

In our day, the television is filled with false teachers. If we listen to them, we will be weakened in our faith so we cannot stand faithfully should persecution grow stronger here. False teachers are not to be listened to since they are “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Liberal churches may have the teachers with the best credentials from the best universities, but they are still false teachers. 

III. Christ urges us to stop conforming our faith to liberal church teachings and overpowering, godless governmental demands.

Acts 5 states this clearly — 27 And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” So must we, with God’s help!

Next time, we look at the Letter to Thyatira! 


Beale, G. K.. Revelation. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

Fee, Gordon D.. Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series) (p. 29). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Trade Guilds. Accessed February 3, 2019 from

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved



Pergamum: A Church so Close to Hell, Part 1

The letter to the church at Pergamum

(Click on the link below if you wish to read the letter as whole first; I will quote them as I explain.)

Introductory comments about Christian Warfare

C. T. Studd was a respected Cricket Player in 19th Century England. In 1885,

C T Studd in Africa

C. T. Studd (1860-1931; pictured in Africa.

he journeyed to China as a missionary — one of “The Cambridge Seven.”

He authored a booklet entitled: “The Chocolate Soldier.”

“Heroism is the lost chord of Christianity! Every true soldier is a hero! A soldier without heroism is a chocolate soldier!  Dissolving in water and melting at the smell of fire.” [See Studd below].

There were no Chocolate soldiers at Pergamum! The Christians at Pergamum were heroic Christians. They lived as brave men and women who had the spirit of martyrs in them. C. T. Studd often said —

Some want to live within the sound
Of church or chapel bell;
I want to run a rescue shop,
Within a yard of hell.

Christians of Pergamum set up that proverbial “rescue shop” very close to hell. They could see “Satan’s Seat” high above them. Pagan temples were abundant in the city. 

Historical focus on the city of Pergamum—vs. 12a

12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write… .

Pergamum existed as a separate kingdom until Attalus III bequeathed it to Rome at his death. It boasted of a library of 200,000 volumes. It was built on a hill 1,000 feet above sea level. Its acropolis was on a high citadel with sacred buildings and temples.


The Heights where the Imperial Temple sat at Pergamum (left).
The Rod of Asclepius (right).

Pergamum was the center of four great cults of Rome — (1) Zeus; (2) Athene; (3) Dionysis; (4) Asklepios (symbol was the Rod of Asclepius, pictured above).
Pergamum was the center for the Emperor cult. It was the first city to be permitted by Rome to build a temple to a living emperor. If ever hell were manifest on earth, surely it was in pagan cities who worshiped false gods.


The Altar of Pergamum (now in Berlin) is thought to be Satan’s Seat.
It is the best preserved artifact from ancient Roman Empire. 

The Roman Proconsul in Pergamum had the right to execute at will (the power of the sword = the Gladius pictured right below at Roman soldier’s side). False worship was wedded to dictatorial powers of Rome in Pergamum.  This is a dangerous combination for the Church of Christ anywhere. Roman Soldiers 2

Christ pledges success to the church who faithfully preaches his word amid vilest of evil.

12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.’

The Risen Christ reveals himself as the one who has a sharp double-edged sword — in Greek the word is rhomphia — the large broad sword used by the pagan hordes conquered by Rome (pictured left). It is an effective instrument of judgment in the mouth of Christ, not in the hands of the Proconsul.

barbarian swordThis figure of the sword coming out of the mouth of Christ is meant as a comfort for the church so close to hell. Christ’s word is effectual for His people against His enemies. Isaiah 55:11-12 are our watch words in time of attack and seeming failure.

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. [see ESV below].

God’s Word is powerful for the faithful church that preaches it even if that church is at the gates of hell itself! Tim Keller explains how Christ meets people in the midst of other so-called competing “gods.”

“My mother [recently] had suffered a stroke, and my father needed someone to lean on. His pastor sat with him for hours in the hospital, ministering not with profound answers, but simply with his presence.

“In the same way, Christianity does not so much offer solutions to the problem of suffering, but rather provides the promise of a God who is completely present with us in suffering. Only Christians believe in a God who says, “Here I am alongside you. I have experienced the same suffering you have. I know what it is like.” No other religion even begins to offer that assurance.” (see Keller below.)

The Persecuted Church today in many parts of the world is like the church at Pergamum. 

See the graph below about the number of persecuted Christians during 2018.

Compare the number of Christians on the graph below in the top 50 nations worldwide. During the persecution from 2018-19, Christian numbers rose and did not fell. “The blood of the martyrs is ever the seed of the Church.” Not all martyrs die. They are willing to take their testimony as far as death if it is necessary. I have forgotten who said this — “The Apostle John lived the martyrdom of a very long life.”

The Church of Christ can be most effective amid persecution and false worship. Christians point others to Christ’s ability to comfort amid suffering. The brightness of Christ’s Gospel is best seen against the dark backdrop of that which is false.

Psalm 115 makes the point that the lack of ability of false gods to come to the aid of their followers!

3 Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.

4 Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
5 They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
6 They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
7 They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
8 Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.

9 O Israel, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.

In a pagan age such as ours, we can point people to the Savior who comes to the aid in all His people’s troubles! This is why Pergamum prospered in the midst of evil, and this is how we also can prosper amid evil today. We must remain faithful to the Word of God!

More on this letter next time.


ESV. English Standard Version. Accessed from

Keller, T. (2019). “Preaching Amid Pluralism.” Accessed June 22, 2019 from

Studd, C. T. (2002). “The Chocolate Soldier / or, Heroism—The Lost Chord of Christianity.”  (Kindle).

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

Smyrna: The Poor Church that was actually Rich, Part 2

Revelation 2:8-11 (Link)

Many find the letter to the Church at Smyrna odd because the church is neither commended nor criticized. This is due to the fact that persecution limited their ministry. Persecution also purged the temptation to compromise with false teaching. 

“Christ values his Churches according to what they are, as well as according to what they do. If their trials are such that all they can do is to bear them, and to wait God’s own time—well.” (see Pulpit Commentary on Revelation, Kindle edition, below.)

The Church was maintaining the body of Christ in Smyrna until better days came when they could expand through public proclamation of the Gospel. This is commendable  when it is the only option available.


A smelting furnace; often used in scripture as an image of refining by testing. (Wikimedia)

God tests us as Christians ultimately in order to bless us vs. 10

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.

Persecution happened to Smyrna in order to test them. The Greek word for test is peirazō. It can mean both “to try” and “to tempt.” (See Peirazō below.) Both God and Satan are said to be ones who try people.

There is a difference in the purpose for the trials —

(1) Satan tempts in order to bring out evil in us;
(2) God tests in order to bring out good in us. (see figure below).

Different Senses of Peirazo

God never leads us into sin. Satan does when he pushes us to act beyond God’s will and purpose.

I Corinthians 10:13 states — No temptation (peirasmos) has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.  (emphasis mine)

Imprisonment of various kinds are Satan’s tool to turn Christians from Christ. 

Today, Christians in various dictatorships are being imprisoned for their faith in Christ. We know Satan is behind this since the form of prison being used is insidious. It insures they are tormented by it even after release.

“A woman from am Asian province, was released in February after five years of inhumane prison life, leaving her with extreme physical and mental trauma. She is emaciated, with a sallow face and protruding cheekbones.

“She was arrested in 2014 for being a member of a banned Christian new religious movement that is included in the list of the xie jiao (literally, “heterodox teachings”). To force her to provide information about the Church, she was subjected to a torture technique called ‘exhausting an eagle’ — sleep deprivation, controlled food provision, and [mind altering] drugs slipped into her drinking water. ‘I hallucinated, as well — terrible images of being arrested and tortured kept flashing in my mind,’ the believer said bitterly, recalling her ordeal.

“That water was different from usual. It was a bit yellowish. On the evening that I drank it, I felt totally dazed and disoriented, and even suffered urinary incontinence,” the woman said. Later, guards forcibly dragged her into the infirmary. Without asking about any of her symptoms, the doctor gave her an injection.

“After receiving the injection, I felt like I couldn’t remember anything, and I felt very scared. A teaching assistant kept trying to lure me, saying, ‘Hurry and sign the three statements [a statement of repentance, a statement of guarantee, and a statement breaking off ties with the Church]. You won’t have to suffer any more after signing them.’

Due to the toxicity of the psychotropic drugs, her memory has severely deteriorated. She is unable to recall many details about the persecution she endured. Even the slightest movements scare her, and, at night, she is often startled awake by nightmares.” (see Bitter Winter below.)

We need to pray for the persecuted Church all over the world. Hebrews 13:3 — Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. See the following links below for sources for prayer — Open Doors USA and Bitter Winter.

God limits suffering to keep His church safe.

You will suffer persecution for ten days. Again John uses the word thlipsis (tribulation). “Ten days” is a symbol for short but definite period of time. The basis is Daniel 1:11-13 —

11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, 12 “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” [emphasis mine; see ESV below].

I will give you the crown of life. “Crown” is the Greek word stephanos which is “a victor’s crown,” not a king’s crown (diadema).

Greek Crowns

Around the crest of Mt. Pagos was a large circle of buildings called the “crown of Smyrna.” Christians excluded from the crown of Smyrna will receive the crown of life. Don’t think of people wearing literal crowns in heaven. The words refer to a spiritual reality and not to a physical reality. Life will “crown” us forever.

Faithful Christians need never fear death vs. 11

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.

(See the post on the Letter to Ephesus for explanation of the first part of this verse.)

Death is the separation of the body and soul. The second death is the separation of body and soul from God forever. Believers need never fear physical death in this world. Read I Corinthians 15:50-58 for great assurance. (click on the link to read in a new window).

James Prince LeeRt. Revd James Prince Lee (1804-1869; pictured left) was headmaster of King Edward’s School, Birmingham. His most famous pupils were J. B. Lightfoot and B. F Westcott, both Bishops of Durham, England. Lee was made the first Bishop of Manchester (see Lee below).

Bishop B. F. Westcott relates the epitaph on Bishop Lee’s tombstone —  “The single word upon his tomb is, I think, unsurpassed as a confession of triumphant, I would almost say, proud faith: Σαλπìσει” (“The trumpet shall sound”). (see Westcott; p. 28, below). This word is a reference to I Corinthians 15:52.

Motivational speakers often quote a businessman, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” We as Christians are in that position. We must always remember that no matter what may occur to us in our life on earth, our Lord will raise us at the last Day. What a rich hope!

Application Chart

Smyrna Graph

Image of the risen Christ to Smyrna — the First and the Last. Obviously this means that he exists before time and will be unchanged at the end of time. However, we ought not to forget the Risen Christ is previous to our trials and with us all along the way and will be at the end after our trial is over. Psalm 1:6 speaks to His care of us in trial. Christ knows the way of the righteous!

No complacency: There is no rebuke for a church in trial who is not accomplishing much in ministry from an outward standpoint. Instead of rebuke for complacency, there is the assurance of Christ with us and watching over us. 

Poor in this world’s goods but rich: God commends those who are rich in spiritual things. During trial and persecution, God is pleased with us when we deepen out walk with Him. He promises us life with Him in victory in heaven after our struggles are finished. The price of such faithfulness is not that of defeat, but of victory! Not all die for the faith, but all maintain the church for the future.

No complicity with false religion wedded to the state: The Risen Christ show us the worse Satan has planned for us — imprisonment, torture, etc. Satan cannot do anything but by God’s permission. None of what Christ actually permits compares with the glory of heaven that awaits us!

As a wartime Prime Minister of Britain said, “The outlook is bleak; we need to try the upward look. Let’s pray.” He then led the cabinet in prayer. Satan has Smyrna-Christians hemmed in on all sides. Satan is not able to roof us over. Let us take hold of God in prayer when no outward work is possible. 

Next time, the Letter to Pergamos.


ESV. Accessed from

Lee, James Prince. Article from Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 32. Accessed February 1, 2019 from,_James_Prince_(DNB00)

Lee, James Prince. FindaGrave listing accessed February 6, 2019 from

Peirazō. (2018). Accessed June 10. 2019 from

Pulpit Commentary on Revelation. (1890). Accessed June 6, 2019 from Kindle Reader, location 95590.

Westcott, Arthur. (1903). Life and letters of Brooke Foss Westcott, D.D., D.C.L., sometime Bishop of Durham, Vol. I. Accessed February 1, 2019 from

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

Smyrna: The Poor Church that was actually Rich, Part 1

Revelation 2:8-11

Click on the link below for the Scripture to open in new window if you wish to read this passage before I begin to explain the details. Revelation 2:8-11

Uniqueness of the Letter to Smyrna

“Out of the seven Churches, two only are un-rebuked. Of these two, Smyrna is one. It is a poor Church… . It is beset with opposition, but it has the Lord for its Advocate, and is addressed by him in words of cheer and of hope. ” (see Pulpit Commentary below).

We need the same cheering and encouragement today. Smyrna speaks to our situation where persecution looms over us and temptations to compromise with Christ’s foes to get along entices us.

Historical focus on the city of Smyrna

A Government against Christ is also against His Church.

Smyrna lay 50 miles North of Ephesus on the Aegean Coastline. It is the only one of the seven original cities that still exists (Izmir, Turkey). It had the privilege of being the birthplace of Homer, Greek poet. Its population was around 200,000 people in the time of John the Apostle. Smyrna had a strong allegiance to the Emperor Cult containing a temple dedicated to Tiberius.

It is over-weening statism, centered on Emperor worship, that will lead to great persecution for Christ’s Church in Asia Minor. Others in developing nations today are experiencing similar persecution from their own governments and from the Western powers for choosing Christ over secular humanism.

21st Century Challenges to Christ in Dictatorships. 

“On November 1, 2018, about 30 officials from the central ‘patrol inspection team’ for religious supervision arrived at a church…during a worship service to conduct an inspection. An official inspecting the church stopped in front of the pulpit and pointed to the first of the Ten Commandments displayed on the wall: ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’

‘This must be removed,’ he said.

“After saying that, the government officials immediately wiped off the commandment. The church’s leader and believers strongly opposed the removal of the commandment. ‘This isn’t appropriate. They’re falsifying the words of God! It’s resisting the Lord!’

“‘[Our leader]  opposes this statement,’ an official said. ‘Who dares not to cooperate? If anyone doesn’t agree, they are fighting against the country. This is a national policy. You should have a clear understanding of the situation. Don’t go against the government.’

“Believers took down the Ten Commandments sign that day.” (see Nine Commandments below).

A dictator cannot permit any authority greater than his own. The same was true with Rome. People compromise to get along with life in a dictatorship. This was the case with the Jews in Asia Minor. Those true to Christ are caught in between and are persecuted by the government and betrayed by those who compromise!

How long until we in the West are forced down that same road? Government or Christ; we will not be permitted to serve two masters.


Mount Pagus, Smyrna, Turkey, by Maison Rubellin ca 1870; t

People from a compromised religious body often betray those who leave their fold to serve Christ in holiness and truth.

Smyrna had an exceptionally large Jewish population. This figured into the persecution of Christians by Jews cooperating with the Romans. Jews had made a compromise with Rome. In lieu of a sacrifice to the Emperor when required, Jews agreed to pay a tax to Rome (fiscus Iudaicus) for the upkeep of the Temple of Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus in Rome (see Jewish Tax below). At this point Jews who paid this tax were collaborators with Rome. Christians in Smyrna once were Jews and still had ties to that body. 


A coin issued by Nerva (Emperor AD 96-98) reads “abolition of malicious prosecution in connection with the Jewish tax.” (WikiPedia)

The Church was probably founded on Paul’s third missionary journey. The most famous of all early church fathers martyred there was Polycarp. He refused to declare that Caesar was Lord. He was burned at the stake and stabbed ca. A.D. 155. He was over eighty years old then. He was alive during John’s time at Ephesus. Tradition holds John appointed him to the Bishopric of Smyrna (see Polycarp below).

Churches from which we separated due to sin in their structures now seek to destroy us. If we left en masse, the government may have awarded our church property to a few who voted “no.”

Roving gangs of thugs now attack churches in Africa. Whole villages are destroyed while governments do not lift a finger to defend the helpless. In the US, we have lawless elements that threaten our peace and well-being as believers in Christ. 


Burning and Stabbing of Polycarp, Smyrna, by Jan Luiken (1649-1712)

Christ is fully aware of the circumstances of His Church vs. 8

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.”

Christ is the First and the Last — This image from the Vision of the Risen Christ, in Rev. 1, comes from Isaiah 44:6 —6 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. (ESV)

This is God’s Divine self-designation. He is God alone. He has no rival among the so-called gods of our age–money, power, etc. 

The Greek Letters are Α and Ω (Alpha and Omega). This figure of speech is a merismos = “a full description is shortened by describing only boundaries or the start and end states.” (See merismos below). The implication of this designation is that Christ is A to Z and everything in between. In other words, Christ is Eternal. Christ is God! (see Fee below). 

Note also that Christ is previous to any suffering we experience. And, He is at the end of all of our troubles as believers as well. He is with us in the present. Thus, He is to be all in all to us along the way of life in the good times and the bad. Psalm 1:8 is our hope–the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly will perish. 

The Risen Christ identifies himself as the one who died and came to life — a reference to Christ’s resurrection. What kind of resources and power do we have? Resurrection power!!!


Jesus revealing himself to Mary Magdalene – William Brassey Hole

Christ knows our circumstances and enriches us with His presence vs. 9

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.

Just two words bring so much comfort to us in suffering — “I know!” We may feel alone, but we are never alone with Christ fully aware of our plight. 

I know your —

(1) tribulation (thlipsis), the standard word usually translated “tribulation” in the NT. The word denotes something which “presses down upon something or someone.” 

Perhaps we ought to render this word “ordeal.” This way we take out of the equation any thought of a great tribulation at the end. The world of Asia Minor Christians was about to enter an ordeal the likes of which they had never known. John’s great prophetic insight is to see this ordeal that lies ahead and prepare the seven churches to walk with Christ through this.
(2) poverty (ptochos) denotes the state of being utterly destitute. We will see later how much commerce is linked to Roman religion. They did not compromise like their former companions — the Jews.

(3) slander (blasphemia) malicious untruths used by the unbelieving Jews to incite persecution of believers. The collaborators with Rome now became the informants on their friends and family who converted to Christianity.

The Risen Christ encourages those who have few of this world’s goods. Yet you are rich (plousias in Greek). They are rich spiritually but not in the resources of this world. “The desire for an intimate knowledge of God is the most important [blessing] in our lives. When we are in the wilderness, our biggest concern as Christians is not with the circumstances – though that is a legitimate concern – it is the assuring presence of God. (see Lloyd-Jones below). 

The Risen Christ knows all about our persecutors.

They say they are Jews but are not is an enigmatic phrase to us. Jewish attenders of the synagogue are not really of Abraham’s spiritual seed. (See chart below). 

These Jews had very likely chosen Smyrna as their place of residence because it was a city of commerce. They not only vilified the Messiah but eagerly accused the Christians before the Roman tribunals. As always, they were filled with malignant antagonism against Christians… . These so-called Jews might consider themselves to be “the synagogue of God”; in reality they constituted “the synagogue of Satan,” the chief accuser of the brethren. (see Hendriksen, pg 65, below).

Suffering believers around the world today are oppressed by those who want the money from developing nations. The greedy want to rid developing nations of any vestige of Christianity. 

Jewish Remnant

The “remnant” of Israel in the OT and the NT

They are in reality a synagogue of Satan — this reveals the true source of the believers’ persecution — Satan. The word “Satan” means “adversary” or “opponent.” This identifies some within the Jewish community who were hostile to the Gospel and persecuted believers.

When Polycarp was burned at the stake, some of the more hostile Jews sided with the Romans. They gathered wood for the fire even though it was the Sabbath!

More on Smyrna next time!


ESV. Accessed from

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series) (p. 30). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Hendriksen, William. (1939). More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Jewish Tax. (2019). Accessed June 5, 2019 from

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. “Enjoying the Presence of God.” Accessed June 4, 2019 from

Merismos. (2019). Accessed February 1, 2019 from

Nine Commandments. (2019) accessed June 8, 2019 from

Polycarp. (2019). Accessed June 5, 2019 from

Pulpit Commentary. (1890). Kindle edition. 

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

Ephesus: the Church with a Missing Ingredient, Part 3

Revelation 2:5-7

1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write…

There is a Way Back and an Alternative to Loveless Christianity vs. 5

5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

Note the progression(1) remember; (2) repent; (3) return; or (4) removal. The figure below pictures Roman General, and Later Emperor, Titus’s Roman soldiers carrying away Israel’s lampstand from the destroyed Temple. Perhaps this image is fresh in the minds of the Jewish-Christians in Ephesus who immigrated from Palestine?! Christ reminds them of the removal of Israel’s lampstand and ability to shine forth the truth of the God to the nations.

Christ wants us to do the right thing from the right motive. We should get back to our fervent love for Christ. Only then can we love others properly.


Roman Soldiers looting the Lampstand from the Temple.

We have enemies against which we must fight vs. 6

6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Who were the Nicolaitans? This sect is obscure to us. It evidently was a heretical group that sought to mislead the church. The etymology of the word is our only key into its possible meaning.

“The name itself may be derived from two words which mean ‘victory’ (nikos) and ‘people’ (laos), thus the idea of their…overpowering of the people. They were evidently licentious and antinomian and advocated an unhealthy compromise with pagan society and the idolatrous culture of Ephesus.” (see Nicolaitans below)

We need to “listen in on Christ’s conversation” with the Seven Churches vs. 7

7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

There is an admonition to become a “snoop.” Can you believe it? We live in a MYOB society (mind your own business). The implication with MYOB is if keep you nose out of my life, than you’ll have time to tend to your own! Yet John says, we ought today to pay attention to what the Spirit says to the churches. Note each individual is urged to read the other churches’ “mail.”

Camp Parker 1969

I went to summer band camp many times from the 6th Grade on. Staying at Camp Parker will always be a good memory to me (the beloved lodge pictured above). Upper Greenville County, SC, was still a blast from the past in many ways. For instance, the camp phone was on a 15 party-line. Fifteen households had land-lines, but only one phone line to the fifteen. How did it operate? To make a call, the caller had to pick up and see if no one was on the line. Only then could the caller make a call. Incoming calls would often be picked up by more than one listener. The intended listener stayed on the line with the caller. Everyone else was supposed to hang their phones up. However, someone invariably still listened in on another person’s call. Who? The neighborhood gossip, of course.

Jesus urges us to read the mail from other churches! This alone lets us know that the messages to the 7 churches are a picture of the church of all ages and pertains to us today as much as it applied to Asia Minor in the past.

Christ promises us special blessings if we faithfully serve him vs. 7b

vs 7b To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

The promise is to the conquerors or overcomers, but they do not form an elite clique. All true believers are overcomers!

Ephesus, and we, are promised Eden restored and surpassed. We are to eat from the tree of life — symbolic of eternal life — taken from Gen. 1-3.

The tree of life is in the paradise of God. “Paradise” is a Persian loanword meaning “pleasure garden.” These gardens were often placed next to temples. One could walk there and fellowship with the deity. The Septuagint (LXX — Greek translation of the OT Hebrew text) translates Garden of Eden with this word in Gen. 2:8-10. In Christ we find paradise restored and surpassed.

Eternity will be spent in the pleasure garden created for us, and we will walk there with God and fellowship with him. (An oriental pleasure garden is pictured at the head of this post from WikiMedia).

Ephesian Letter Analyzed

Analysis of the Letter to Ephesus (in the graph above)

I. Christ always reveals Himself in His Character that is best suited to our ultimate need.
To Ephesus, Christ was the One who tends his churches and takes responsibility for their security.
We need to see the Lord Jesus Christ as our provider and defender today. We look to Him not to religion or government for our provisions and protection!

II. The Church’s Complacency is Addressed by the Living Christ.
We all can let our love slip to a less-than-Christian-level as we oppose the forces of darkness around us.
We must love God first and foremost. This includes “Telling the Truth to Troubled People” who may not want to hear it. (This was a title to a book in a counseling seminar I took).
Then, our love for people will be ordered properly. We will not shave the truth to please them nor fail to express love for them as human beings made in the image of  God.

III. Then, the Lord addresses any Complicity with the Opposition.
In the case of the churches of Asia Minor, they would be tempted to cooperate with the Roman administration and its alliance with false religion.
The opposition is more subtle at present in the West. We still face the “Forces of the Dragon” arrayed against us, like the Seven Churches did. In our case, the Dragon wears a different face today. False religion allied with over-weening government is our challenge.
We cannot permit “our Caesar” to usurp that which belongs to Christ alone.

IV. Last, in each letter the Living Christ Commends that Church for what they are doing right.
Ephesus was patiently enduring their hardships of opposing heresy and heretics.
They and we need to restore the priority of our love for God fist and foremost.
We also need to put our love for people in its proper place as subservient to our supreme love for God!

It certainly was fitting to spend three weeks on the Church at Ephesus. This church in Asia Minor was the preeminent church!


ESV. Accessed from

Nicolaitans. (2018). “Ten Things You Should Know about the Nicoloitans”; Accessed May 25, 2019 from

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved