Hello everybody and welcome in to episode #334 of the Bible 2021 podcast. We are reading Revelation 2 today and our focus is on Did Jesus Ever Write Letters To Anybody? Do We Have Any Surviving Writings of Jesus? How Was Satan’s Throne in Pergamum? We are a daily 10ish minute podcast, where we will dig in to the truth of the Word of God by reading one Bible chapter a day and discussing it. Welcome to new listeners in . Our goal is to encourage DAILY Bible reading, so you can jump in at any time and join with us. We want to invite as many people as possible to join us in daily Bible reading, so help spread the word and share the podcast! Don’t forget about our web-page, Bible2021.com – contact page, show notes, transcript and more– Click here for our Bible 2021 reading plan\
Today’s question is a little cheeky, I’ll admit. In a sense, of course, Jesus did not write any books, letters or poems that we know of, which have survived to the modern times. Yes, as we’ve discussed before, there is supposedly a letter that was dictated by Jesus to a King named Abgar of Edessa. The normally quite reliable historian Eusebius of Caesarea wrote in his Ecclesiastical History in 325 A.D. That Jesus send the disciple Thaddeus to Abgar with the following message:
Blessed are you who hast believed in me without having seen me. For it is written concerning me, that they who have seen me will not believe in me, and that they who have not seen me will believe and be saved. But in regard to what you have written me, that I should come to you, it is necessary for me to fulfill all things here for which I have been sent, and after I have fulfilled them thus to be taken up again to him that sent me. But after I have been taken up I will send to you one of my disciples, that he may heal your disease and give life to you and yours.
Is this claim true? I’ve no idea – it’s pretty early, and Eusebius is fairly reliable, so I suppose it is possible, and many Eastern Orthodox churches believe it to be fact.
What I am quite certain of, however, is that Jesus DID indeed write seven letters – or, dictated them. (Keeping in mind that Paul also dictated many of his letters, rather than writing them with his own hand) Though these seven letters to seven churches in Asia Minor were written after Jesus’ lifetime, I believe we can trust that they are, in fact, directly from Jesus, written to His churches. Some have argued that each of these seven letters are not actually written to seven literal churches in Asia Minor, but rather to seven periods of church history, with each church representing a period of time in church history, but I see no real evidence of that, and believe it is safer to view them exactly as they appear to be – letters to seven real and historical churches in Asia Minor that also speak directly to all of our churches in the current day, spread all across the Earth. We have timeless commands, wisdom and truth from Jesus here, so let’s go ahead and read these letters and then discuss them individually.
Letter #1 – Ephesus. The church at Ephesus was strong in many ways. They apparently were strong in good works and persevered, not quitting in the face of opposition. They were well known – even by Jesus – of not tolerating evil people and exposing false teachers and false apostles. They apparently had good and solid doctrine and biblical beliefs, and yet Jesus has a strong warning for them and a strong punishment if they do not heed His words:
4 But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
What is the love they had at first? What is the first love the Ephesians had abandoned? I believe passages like Jeremiah 2:1 give us the answer:
2 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Go and announce directly to Jerusalem that this is what the Lord says:
I remember the loyalty of your youth,
your love as a bride—
how you followed me in the wilderness,
in a land not sown.
The Ephesian church was strong in doctrine and strong in the Word. They had strong character – enduring in an admirable way. They were well known for doing many good works, but the problem was that their love for God and His Son Jesus was waning – they had abandoned it. What a sobering and terrifying warning for us. We can be a doctrinally sound church known for our good deeds, and yet- if our LOVE for GOD is not first and foremost (remembering the First and Greatest commandment of Jesus!) then we are in danger of ceasing to exist as a church because Jesus puts our light out. By the way, I note that Ephesus is now a ruin – an ancient and abandoned city.
Letter #2 Smyrna – This was a church with little in the way of material resources. They were actually POOR – struggling financially in pretty much every way. Not only that, but the church was being persecuted by a strong group of non-Christian Jews – and, even beyond that, MORE suffering is around the corner, according to Jesus, and even some of the church members will be imprisoned by the direct action of Satan himself! On the surface, this church is in deep, deep trouble, and yet it is one of only two (out of 7!) churches that Jesus writes to in which He gives them no rebuke. Instead, Jesus encourages this church, saying:
9 I know your affliction and poverty, but you are rich…Be faithful to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Let us never assume that the strength of a church should be reckoned in terms of how prosperous it is.
Letter #3 Pergamum. What would be the best city to plant a church in? How about the one where Satan’s throne is NOT…except, that is where the church in Pergamum found itself – in the city where Satan’s throne was – how terrifying! But, what does it mean that Satan’s throne was there? Here’s Dr. Sam Storms with a great answer:
Upon entering the city one couldn’t help but notice the gigantic altar of Zeus erected on a huge platform some 800 ft. above the city, looking down on its inhabitants like a great vulture hovering over its prey. Many have sought to identify “Satan’s seat” or “throne” (v. 13) with this altar. Amazingly, a reconstructed form of this altar is on display in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin (which I had the privilege [?] of visiting in 1994)!
Pergamum was also the center for the worship of Athene and Dionysus. However, the most distinctive and celebrated cult of all was dedicated to the worship of Asclepios (or Aesculapius). Often referred to as “Savior” (soter) in Greek mythology, Asclepios was the son of Apollo and was thought to have been the very first physician. The symbol of Asclepios was the serpent, which has led some to identify the “throne of Satan” with the shrine erected to his worship. [You might also recall that the symbol adopted by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (renamed The Department of Health and Human Services in 1979) is the staff of Asclepios … with a serpent coiled around it!]
But above and beyond the worship directed at these pagan deities was the fact that Pergamum was the acknowledged center in Asia Minor for the imperial cult of Caesar. In 29 b.c. this city received permission to build and dedicate a temple to Augustus, three years before Smyrna was granted a similar privilege. Perhaps more than any of the other six cities, the people of Pergamum were devoted to the worship of Caesar.
Were it not for the fact that “greater” is he who is in us “than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4b), it would be frightening to hear that Pergamum is “where Satan dwells” (Rev. 2:13b). Although this may simply be synonymous with “Satan’s throne” (v. 13a), it’s possible that this is another way of saying that evil was present in Pergamum in a particularly powerful and concentrated way. Could it be that Satan had in some sense made Pergamum the focus of his earthly base of operation?
To those believers immersed in an explicitly Satanic atmosphere of idolatry and wickedness, Jesus says: “I know where you dwell!” To a people struggling by grace to remain faithful when those around them revel in faithlessness, Jesus says: “I know where you dwell!” To a church that must, at times, have felt abandoned and alone and given over to the enemy, Jesus says: “I know where you dwell!”
We have already seen that our Lord “knows” the churches, for he walks among them (Rev. 2:1). In this letter, however, “He makes it clear that His intimate knowledge extends not only to the works His people do (as in Ephesus) and to the tribulation they endure (as in Smyrna) but to the environment in which they live. ‘I know where you dwell,’ He says. He is not ignorant of the fact that the Christian Church is set in the non-Christian world, and that it feels on all sides the continuous pressure of heathen influence” (John Stott, 51–52)
Jesus was fully aware that Pergamum, of all the cities in Asia Minor, would be most severely threatened by pagan influence. Thus the place “where Satan’s throne is” (v. 13) most likely refers to the primary role of Pergamum as the center of the imperial cult, and as such the center of Satan’s kingdom in the east (if not beyond as well).
Sam Storms, Biblical Studies: Meditations on Revelation 2–3 (Edmond, OK: Sam Storms, 2016), Re 2:12–13.
Letter #4 Thyatira: Jesus challenges the church at Thyatira and the church at Pergamum for essentially the same thing: tolerating false teachers and false teachings. For Pergamum, it is the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans, and for Thyatira, it is the teachings of [a?] Jezebel. He gives a similar warning to all adherents of false teachings and teachers: 16 So repent! Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth. We yet live in an age of an abundance of teachers who teach a different doctrine than what was taught by Jesus and His apostles, and He will come and fight those teachings and teachers with the sword of His mouth – the Word of God, so let that encourage and frighten you, dear friends, to cleave and adhere to the Word of God and spit out and run from all teachings that teach otherwise.
Bible Memory passage for the month of November: John 14:6 “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
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