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Revelation 2-3 by Robert Dean
Series:Revelation (2004)
Duration:1 hr 7 mins 34 secs

The Seven Churches Revisited Rev. ch 2-3

 

One of the things we should ask as we look at what has happened in the Roman province of Asia and how it succumbed to the Islamic invasions and everything else is: What is it that caused the ultimate collapse of that civilisation, and what caused the destruction of the impact of Christianity at that time that they once had? Why is it that those churches failed? They all ultimately failed and we can learn some lessons for today because in very similar ways the western civilisation is tracking in similar ways what happened in the Roman empire. From the seventh century there has been a battle between the Christian west and the incursions of Islam and we are living in a secular world today which wishes to turn a blind eye to that. There is a historical reality here that if ignored will simply lead to our doom.

 

So what led to this collapse? One passage in the Gospel of John gives a backdrop to the core issue we will focus on. John 17:14 NASB "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." What does He mean by the world? The word is used in a variety of ways—the inhabitants of the earth, the earth itself, etc., but in a technical way it refers to the cultures of mankind that have sought to structure and define reality in a way that is in opposition to the Word of God. The Word tells us what God's truth is, defines reality, and the world wants to set up an alternate reality so that the people in the world, the earth-dwellers, can give themselves a rationale and justification for denying and suppressing the truth of God. So Jesus said: "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them." There will always be this battle between the truth of God and the relative truths of the world system, and the trouble that the church falls into is that believers don't learn to think biblically so that they can counter the thought systems of the world system.

 

Christianity is essentially a though system. It is a relationship but it is a relationship that is based on thinking about God's creation in terms of how God has defined it. That is living in a way that is consistent with reality. God as the creator is the one who defines reality and has revealed to us what that reality is. Man wants to come along and say: "I think reality is such and so because that is my experience." They want to base in on their experience, their observation, their limited knowledge as opposed to what God has revealed. So we see this antagonism between the Word and the world. The world will always be antagonistic to those who take a stand for the Word of God, and the trouble with most people, no matter what their culture is, is that they don't like to be put in a minority position where everybody is antagonistic to them. There is something within us that makes us want to be accepted, acceptable, we don't want to be thought of as odd or strange, as some how a religious fanatic or something of that nature. So there is something within our sin nature that wants us to accommodate the world system and to compromise with it so that we can go along to get along.

 

Christians are from an out-from-the-world system; we have a different origin. Once we are regenerate and have put our faith in Jesus Christ as our saviour then we are born again. There is a spiritual transaction that takes place where God recreates a spiritual life within us—because we are born spiritually dead because of the guilt of Adam's sin. When Jesus Christ died on the cross he paid the penalty for sin, and when we trusted Him God the Holy Spirit regenerated us and made us alive together in Christ. This means we are no longer of the world; we are a product of a different type of thinking. 

 

John 17:15 NASB "I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil {one.}" We are not to go into ascetic forms of spirituality; we are to be kept from the influence of Satan. [16] "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. [17] Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." In the context it is being set apart from the cosmic system that is around us, being set apart from the thinking that characterises the world around us. We are a counter cultural movement. So that the more we study the Word of God the more our thinking, according to Romans 12:2, is conformed to the Word of God and we are transformed by the Word of God and not conformed to the thinking of the world. We will be different. We are sanctified or set apart by means of the truth, which is the Word of God. [18] "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world." We are to be set apart from the world in terms of our thinking and then we are sent as missionaries into the world to communicate the gospel and the truth of God's Word, and to have an impact on the culture around us. But when we get out there what has happened historically too often is that Christians, because of lack of knowledge of the Word of God, the lack of biblical training in how to think, begin become dominated by the thought forms of the world, and they begin to assimilate to the world so that before long there is no difference between Christians and the world system around them.

 

We can just look around at different ecclesiastical or church movements that are taking place today to see that they are very, very popular, but in reality there is not a lot of difference between their methods and their thinking and that of the trends of the popular culture. This has happened generation upon generation, civilisation upon civilisation, down through the church age. We get to look at a case study of this in the seven churches of revelation.

 

At the time of the end of persecution in the fourth century the seeds are already being laid for the destruction of the impact of the vibrant church. There is the rise of monasticism and monastic mysticism. Why? Because under persecution there was the aura of super spirituality for those who were martyrs or those who were persecuted. But what happens when there is no overt persecution anymore? How is this overt spiritual status reached without the overt suffering? Now it has to be imposed upon self through self-flagellation, asceticism and self-imposed adversity. So there was the rise of monastic mysticism, the rise of the worship of Mary at the Council of Ephesus where they accepted the terminology that she was theotokos, "mother of God." What they were really saying was that Jesus is God. The debate was over whether she was theotokos or christotokos, the mother of God or the mother of Christ. The correct expression would be that she was the mother of the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ, but when they affirm that she is the mother of God is that Jesus is God. They are affirming the deity of Jesus in saying that, but that becomes changed in the views in the coming centuries to where Mary herself begins to become glorified. Even though it is centuries before there is the full development and establishment of Maryolatry within the Roman Catholic church it has a history that began in the 5th century. The modus operandi that begins to impact Christianity in the east and the west is that the way to become accepted by the world is to minimise the differences, maximise the what there is in common, and to begin to just assimilate into Christianity the religious thinking, the thought forms of the culture around them.

 

In the early church there were success—evangelism, missions and doctrinal clarity. We see this in the church at Ephesus, the church at Smyrna, and the church at Philadelphia. There were also early warning signs in the seven letters to the seven churches, warnings of assimilation where they were accepting the pagan thought forms around them, compromise and complacency. Some of these churches because very wealthy and self-sufficient. They thought that their status, wealth, affluence, gave them their security. Then there was an assimilation with worldliness. They accepted the doctrines of Balaam, the Nicolaitanes, which were basically terms related to licentious, religious systems that were opposed to Christianity. But they were so proud of their tolerance, they would not say anything negative.

 

We see the same thing today. We have to understand that we, too, can fall prey to the same devastating problems that the early church did by failing to make that clear distinction between our thinking and the thinking of the world. This is why Christianity has very little impact today in the culture around us. For the last 100 years the church as a whole has compromised more and more with the world so that now there is very little difference between the thinking of most believers and their unbelieving counterparts.

 

Illustrations