Seven Churches of Rev. 2 and 3: Part 2.
Last time, I stated my view that the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamus have all disappeared, symbolically and in reality. One would be hard pressed to find a congregation like the first century church today. Likewise, while there are many places in the world where Christians meet secretly in violation of civil laws and even suffer persecution, (3000 die for their faith each day), the widespread public murder for sport of Christians solely because of their beliefs is no more. But the marriage of pagan and Christian beliefs in Pergamus produced 4 offspring that all survive to this day and are represented by the four remaining letters. Thyatira represents the Catholic Church, Sardis the Protestants, Philadelphia the Evangelicals, and Laodicea the liberal and apostate church of the last days.
Come Meet the Children
The letter to Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29) predicts conditions that were manifested in the “Holy Roman Empire” known later as the Catholic Church, and gives the clearest picture of the integration of pagan ritual into Christian worship. The title “Queen of Heaven” by which many Catholics refer to Mary, was first used of Semeramis, wife of Nimrod the founder of Babylon and mother of Tammuz. Semeramis declared herself a goddess, claimed that Tammuz was born of a supernatural conception involving the Sun god, and began the first counterfeit religion. She is symbolically called Jezebel in the letter, leading people away from the truth into idolatry. The Lord often equates false worship with sexual infidelity and eating impure foods.
Birth of a Legend
According to legend, while out hunting one day Tammuz was killed by a wild animal. Semeramis mourned for 40 days at the end of which Tammuz was raised from the dead. A celibate priest hood was formed and the chief priest was declared infallible. The 40 day mourning (now called Lent), the Yule log, evergreen tree, mistletoe and hot cross buns were all used in rituals commemorating the event, and the mother-child cult was begun. Later the Romans adapted these to the death and re-birth of the Sun at the winter solstice, but in the 4th century the traditions surrounding Semeramis and Tammuz were attributed to Mary and Jesus and came almost unchanged into Catholicism, where they remain to this day.
But don’t confuse the system with the people. In verses 22-24 the Lord warned that some from the Church in Thyatira will face the tribulation while others will be rescued and share in rewards that are uniquely reserved for true believers. The inescapable conclusion is that in the Catholic system as in most religious systems claiming to be Christian, some are saved and some are not.
A Real Life Parable
The only negative experience we had in the whole trip took place in Thyatira, called Akhisar today. After a friendly and helpful guard opened the site for our inspection and gave us material that explained what we were looking at, we left to find some lunch thinking how pleasant our time there had been. Down the street, we spotted an open-air shop where a vendor was selling the barbecued chicken sandwiches that are so popular in Turkey, and that we had come to enjoy as well.
Waiting for our sandwiches, we were approached by a man who appeared to hold some position of authority. His manner was most unfriendly, and his questions conveyed an air of suspicion. We left there quickly wondering if he was a policeman, a government agent, or an official from a religion unfriendly to Christians. Driving away we also discovered our food was not edible. The chicken was bad, as if the innards hadn’t been removed before cooking. Re-reading the letter we were struck by the contrasts between good and evil, in the letter and in our visit.
The Letter to Sardis (Rev 3:1-6) speaks of dead orthodoxy and points to the protestant reformation. After 1500 years of concealing the truth and introducing traditions that made the Lord’s completed work at the cross seem insufficient, the Catholic Church was finally challenged. Martin Luther and others took up the battle cry from Habakkuk 2:4; “The righteous shall live by his faith,” and called for a return to the Doctrine of Grace. But in their determination to regain the Truth of the Lord, the reformation churches somehow lost the Spirit of the Lord. They had the reputation of being alive but were dead. The Lord admonished them to wake up, remember what they had heard, and obey it.
Remember and Obey What?
I always think of John 3:3 when I read this. “No one can enter the Kingdom unless he is born again.” You rarely hear a sermon on that verse in main line churches today, but as in the letter to Thyatira, a few have found the truth and are promised the believer’s reward while the others are warned of the coming tribulation.
The most significant site in Sardis today is the huge abandoned synagogue and gymnasium (school). As I stood there I was reminded how the protestant church has abandoned its Jewish roots and ignores the Old Testament, even doubting its veracity. Having learned what the Lord did but not fully understanding why He did it, they’ve lost both Spirit and Truth.
These two children defined Christianity until the 1800’s when the Lord again did a remarkable thing and the Church was born again in the 3rd child of Pergamus.