Archive for November, 2015


The Croesus Mine, Kalgoorlie. Sketch by WH Douglas c.1960’s

Growing up in Kalgoorlie the name Croesus was very familiar to me. One of the mines situated halfway between Kalgoorlie and Boulder was called the Croesus mine. It was just across the road from my high school so all my high school years were spent breathing in sulphur fumes from Croesus. In between the school and the mine was a large area of public open space on which we played football and other sports, commonly known as the Croesus ground.

Common as the name was to me, I don’t think I ever investigated where it came from. From 560BC to 546BC the King of Sardis in what is now western Turkey, was King Croesus.  Much of what we know about Croesus has come down through legend but it’s understood that he developed a means of purifying gold, that he may have produced the first gold coins and in fact, currency as we know it, is said to have been developed first by King Croesus.

This the latest in a series of posts featuring the seven churches addressed in the first three chapters of the book of Revelation in the Bible. Today I’m looking at the letter to the church in Sardis. (See Introduction to this series)

Perhaps it was Sardis’ reputation as a wealthy city that prompted Jesus to say to this church, through the apostle John: “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.

But the funeral hadn’t started yet … The letter then goes on to say: Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Sardis was built at the foot of Mt Tmolus, a steep spur that formed a citadel at one end of the city. Throughout the history of Sardis there were a number of occasions when the city was attacked. One occasion that became legendary was the time that Sardis under King Croesus fell to Cyrus King of Persia. Croesus sought advice from many people including the famous oracle of Delphi who announced that a great empire would fall.

Croesus believed that was evidence that his own Lydian Empire would put the Persians to flight.  Sardis was well protected on all sides except Mt Tmolus which they believed served as a natural protection. But because it wasn’t being watched, the enemy were able to climb up the mountain and get into the city without being seen. Croesus’ own Lydian Empire fell on that occasion.

Two centuries later Antiochus III did exactly the same thing. Once again the city was complacent about the dangers of not guarding Mt Tmolus. Once again the city fell after soldiers sneaked into the city through the same route that Cyrus’ soldiers had discovered.

Then, within the lifetime of some of the people who were still in the church a great earthquake had destroyed the city. Pliny described the earthquake in 17AD as the greatest earthquake in human memory, and Sardis never really recovered though the emperor did much to rebuild the city and provide financial relief.

The way in which the city had been infiltrated by laziness on the part of the military on at least two occasions was recorded in history and became part of folklore. The city was still living with the effects of a major earthquake that came upon them unexpectedly, so when Jesus said: I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you, they knew exactly what he meant. They knew about the embarrassment of being caught out sleeping on the job. And they knew they needed to listen to Jesus’ warning.  Wake up.

The principle still applies to the church in the 21st century. We need to be aware. We need to be alert. We need to be awake.

The last part of the letter says: Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.  The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Later on in Revelation we have a picture drawn for us of an amazing event in heaven where there is a description of people wearing white robes and holding palm branches. These people are described as having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

This reminds us of the words of the prophet Isaiah who said“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

Jesus, described as the Lamb of God, gave his life for us that we may be made pure in his sight. It’s not of our own doing, or our own efforts at goodness. It’s about the grace of the Lord Jesus who gave everything for our salvation. And it’s about our willingness to put our faith in Jesus for every aspect of our life.

The message to the church in Sardis was a message to people who were hoping that everything would be OK, but they weren’t ready. They still had unfinished business with Jesus. We are invited to deal with any unfinished business we have with Jesus so that we may be awake and ready for Him.

See the beginning of this series of posts: Introduction, or go on to the next poist.

Blue Jeans became a symbol of youth culture in the 50’s and 60’s and most of us still wear blue jeans at some stage. While synthetic dyes are used today, originally the colour came from indigo dye which is a plant-based dye. Long before blue jeans became popular indigo dye was highly valued and was the main industry in a city called Thyatira.

This series of posts is based on the letter to the seven churches in the first three chapters of Revelation. Look back to see messages to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum. This post is about the message to the city of Thyatira.

The ancient city of Thyatira, in western Turkey is situated in a valley that served as a valuable transport route through Asia Minor. It is now now the city of Akhisar and is situated on the highway that runs between Izmir and Istanbul, Turkey’s most important ports. But it’s always been on important trade routes, and was an industrial city back in the time when John wrote his letter to the church at Thyatira. Among other things it was the centre of an industry in dyeing cloth, and in particular the indigo trade. In Acts 16 we discover that a woman by the name of Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from Thyatira, was one of the foundation members of the Philippi Church in Greece. Indigo made its name in Thyatira, a long time before blue jeans became popular.

There have been a couple of other archeological clues to the history of Thyatira. Inscriptions found in the old city tell us that this was a major centre of guilds. In addition to dyeing guilds, inscriptions tell us there were guilds of wool-workers, linen-workers, makers of outer garments, leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave-dealers, and bronze-smiths.

BMC_34We also know from coins that have been found that Thyatira had a military history, but at the time of John’s letter that city’s military strength was probably only a memory. In fact, history tells us the city may not have been as powerful as it seemed. To a city that has a memory of military strength but is now relatively weak in military terms, Jesus is introduced as someone of great strength. The letter commences: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.  I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

This is followed by a warning about a woman who clearly had a position of leadership in the church but was leading people away to idolatory and immorality. In a society where employment was dependent on being a part of guilds, this woman, along with others, would have encouraged people to participate in the great banquets run by the guilds at which all the idols and statues around the room were toasted, and as the night progressed would degenerate into drunkenness and immorality. It was seen as just a normal part of life and necessary to a person’s acceptance as a tradesperson.

The call to the church at Thyatira was the same as Jesus call to us today. We need to allow the eyes of Jesus to look into every part of our lives …. our work, our social life, our church life, and our thoughts to see that we are remaining faithful to Jesus. In the olden days before power steering, as you drove your car you would be continually correcting the steering wheel to stay on track. Repentance on a daily basis recognises the potential to be drawn away from the truth, and the need to keep short accounts with God.

Thyatira was a city whose military strength was only a distant memory. In their weakness they were told that Jesus would be their strength. The characteristic of Jesus is the All Powerful One.  The characteristic of a victorious church is an obedient church. Now at the end of the letter is the promise of a reward for a victorious church. It talks about them being given authority over the nations. From a position of weakness there is the promise of strength. But it’s not military strength. It’s strength that comes from Jesus.

This church, overwhelmed by weakness and infiltrated by people who were bringing it down by their idolatry and immorality, were promised that they could be victorious. Jesus comes to bring hope; the resurrected Lord Jesus, as promised to the church in Thyatira, is the bright morning star who outshines all others.

This is the latest in a series of posts based on the letter to the seven churches as recorded in Revelation chapters 1 to 3 in the New Testament. You can read it for yourself here. Go on to read Listen Up, Church #5

In the history of mankind there have been a small number of significant revolutions based around the way we communicate. From writing and drawing on stone, we discovered that a form of writing material could be developed from the papyrus plant. From there we discovered that animal skins, or parchment, was a valuable writing material and that created a significant change in society at the time. Paper was invented in China but the invention of the printing press in the 15th century represented another revolution in our society. Then, in our own lifetime, we have experienced the technological revolution.

This is the third in a series of posts based on the first couple of chapters of the book of Revelation that are focussed on a letter sent by the Apostle John to seven churches in western Turkey. This letter was sent to the church in Pergamum.

Pergamum is famous because it is from the name of that city that we gained the word for parchment. Pergamum was home to a library that, according to the writings of Plutarch, housed about 200,000 volumes. The Library of Pergamum became one of the most important libraries in the ancient world.

Prior to the creation of parchment, manuscripts were transcribed on papyrus, which was produced only in Alexandria. When the Ptolemies of Africa refused to export any more papyrus to Pergamum, King Eumenes II commanded that an alternative source be found. Parchment reduced the Roman Empire’s dependency on Egyptian papyrus, allowed for the increased dissemination of knowledge throughout Europe and Asia, and greatly expanded the holdings of the Library of Pergamum.

So, to the church in this great city of the book, John’s letter says: “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. What a strange picture.  But perhaps this wasn’t so strange because the readers of this letter may well have had the opportunity to read the letter to the Hebrews where you can find these words:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

When Jesus is described as having a sharp double-edged sword coming out of his mouth, it tells us something about character. It tells us that Jesus is the eternal word which John had already confirmed in a previous writing like this: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Jesus is the eternal word. What a great message that was for the Christians in Pergamum, that great city of words, the centre for the production of parchment and the dissemination of knowledge. The Jesus who they worshipped was far greater than the quest for knowledge that was so central to their city.

But John knew how bad things were in that city; it was so bad that he described it as the city where Satan had his throne. Tradition has it that John ordained Antipas as bishop of Pergamon during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian and that he was martyred in ca. 92 AD by burning in a brazen altar in the shape of a bull.

Yet despite the opposition they received and the evil that existed all around them, the church had remained faithful to Jesus. But there were a few people who were causing trouble and enticing people into idolatory and immorality. The word that is translated as entice, or in some cases, stumbling block, is the Greek word, skandalon from which we get our word scandal. It was specifically used at that time to refer to the bait stick on a bird trap. When I was a kid I remember setting up bird traps in my yard. The idea was that the bird would be enticed into the trap by some seed on the ground, and I could then pull a piece of string, the stick would be removed and the box would fall down, and the bird was caught – it’s OK, I let it go afterwards.

That was exactly the idea that was referred to in this passage. Christians were being enticed into a trap that included idolatory and immorality and while it seemed very innocent at first, it ended up being a disaster for them. While it was only a small group of people within the church who were causing trouble, the whole church was called to repentance.

The letter then went on to explain how the problem would be overcome. Jesus said he would come and fight against them with the sword of his mouth.Remember the sharp double edged sowrd coming out his mouth? It is the Word of God that will maintain the standards within the life of the Church. Not the blunt instrument of our self-righteous judgement, but the sharp sword of God’s Word. When we allow Jesus the eternal word, to be the focus of our church, and allow his written word to be our guide, the Holy Spirit is given the freedom to penetrate people’s hearts and minds and change occurs.

So then we come now to the final part of this letter to the church at Pergamum. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

We learn more in another part of the Bible where Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died.  But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

To this great city where the written word was so important through its parchment industry, and its library, Jesus came as the Eternal Word. And as the Eternal Word he offered three things:

  1. He knows us intimately and can look deep into our hearts to prompt us to follow him in full obedience (that’s the sharp double-edged sword)
  2. He came as spiritual food to sustain us in every situation. Jesus feeds our souls and generously ministers to our every needs. We need to be willing to be fed from the Word of God that we may grow to be more like Jesus (that’s the hidden manna)
  3. The eternal word came to prepare us for eternity and to promise that our name would be written in the Lamb’s book of Life. (That’s the white stone with the new name). Jesus welcomes us eternally as we accept his great gift of salvation. We need to be willing to receive Jesus and allow him to change us inside out.

This is the second in a series I have been preaching through at Maida Vale Baptist Church entitled, Listen Up, Church”, based on Revelation 1-3. You can also read the Introduction, Listen Up Church #1, and Listen Up Church #2. Read on at Listen Up, Church #4.



If you’ve been following the refugee crisis in Europe you may have heard the name Izmir. It’s the third largest city in Turkey and is situated on the Aegean coast. Refugees have come from Syria to Izmir in their thousands and from there, have been finding any means possible to get across to Europe, or in many cases, just to get to the Greek Island of Lesbos.

Izmir is an ancient city that was originally called Smyrna, the second city addressed in a letter by the apostle John to seven churches in Western Turkey. It was the birthplace of one of the world’s richest men, Aristotle Onassis, but was also the home of Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna in the second century, who according to tradition died a martyr.

This post is the second in the series based on John’s letter to the seven churches. You can read what he said to the church in Smyrna here.

As with each of the letters, John begins by telling us something about the character of Jesus. “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.”

To a church that was suffering persecution, this was a very powerful introduction. This message is from Jesus himself, the first and the last. The beginning and the End. The Alpha and the Omega. The Smyrnan church had seen religious fads come and go. Smyrna was one of the first cities to engage in the worship of Roman emperors. They had seen the worship of Greek gods and goddesses. But Jesus, John reminds them, is the first and the last. What they needed was constancy and stability in a changing, and frightening environment.

On an earlier occasion John had written in what has become known as John’s Gospel. It started with these words: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

Now at the beginning of his letter to the seven churches, John says: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him; even those who pierced him; and all peoples on earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Jesus is God. He is the creator of the world. He is the beginning and he will return at the end to bring all things to fruition. The message to the church in Smyrna in the face of persecution was first of all a reminder that despite the poverty caused by the opposition they were receiving, they were rich in Jesus. Secondly they were told not not be afraid, and thirdly the call was to be faithful.

The message of John to the seven churches is a message of hope that Jesus is coming and that there will be a victor’s crown for those who are faithful to him.

He finishes his letter to the church in Smyrna in a similar way to each of the churches. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Listen up, Church. Then he concludes by saying: The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.

Hang on, what’s the second death? Perhaps this had been part of John’s teaching that was already known by the church in Smyrna, but we don’t become aware of it until we get to Revelation 20 where it says: “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”

This is a very graphic and frightening depiction of the end times, but the message of John’s letter is not a message of fear, but the promise of victory. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.

The church in Smyrna is facing persecution that will lead to imprisonment and even death. Yet Jesus comes to them: Jesus, the First and the Last, who died and came to life again and says:  I know your afflictions … I know about the slander … Do not be afraid.

There is victory for those who confess and repent of their sins, receive his gift of love and forgiveness, and continue as faithful followers. And the promise is that these will not be hurt at all by the second death. That’s great news.

This is the second in a series I have been preaching through at Maida Vale Baptist Church entitled, Listen Up, Church”, based on Revelation 1-3.

See also: Listen Up, Church – Introduction and Just Do It: Listen Up, Church #1. Go on to Listen Up, Church#3.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 3.51.56 PMLast year we were in the ruins of Ephesus in western Turkey where we came across an image of the goddess Nike, now better known as the symbol of the footwear giant, Nike. The word nike in the original Greek means victory and is a key word used in the letter to the seven churches in the first few chapters of Revelation.  Each of the churches were told how they could be victorious.

But the reference to victory may have been particularly significant to the church in Ephesus which was one of the leading churches in Asia Minor, situated in a busy trading centre at the heart of a bustling multicultural, multi-faith society. John started his letter (read the letter to Ephesus) by saying something about the character of Jesus: “These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.”

The lampstands represent the churches and John is assuring the church in Ephesus, and all who read the letter, that Jesus is not just present among his churches, but he walks among them personally. They could communicate with each other, the church could experience Jesus among them, and he could observe them and see what was going on for them.

In his letter, John highlights some really positive things about the Ephesian church. He commends their hard work and their perseverance. He’s aware that they can’t tolerate wicked people, and that they have tested those who claim to be apostles but aren’t. He stresses again that they have persevered and have endured hardships for the name of Jesus, and haven’t grown weary. He also notes that they hate the practices of the Nicolaitans. We don’t actually know who the Nicolaitans were, but were probably an heretical group that operated within churches.

But he then goes on to raise a particular issue with the church. “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”

They were a good church. They were a hard working church that stood up for the truth and maintained all that was just and right. But they had forsaken their first love.

The first love of the Ephesian Church was an overwhelming commitment to follow Jesus and to honour him in every part of their lives. Jesus was central in everything they did. But over time that first love had dwindled away. They were still faithful in their service. They worked hard and the made sure that the truth was maintained, but something was missing.

According to the letter to the church at Ephesus the solution is not just about dreaming about the good times in the past. The instruction is: Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

The letter to the Ephesian church started with Jesus being present with his church, walking among the lampstands. In Genesis 3 we read of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day and Adam and Eve recognised the sound. Clearly it was normal for him to do that and perhaps for them to walk with him. There were trees that were planted in that garden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan and took of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which they had been told not to eat.  And God punished them for their sin.

We read at the end of Genesis 3: So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

It was God’s plan for humanity that mankind should eat of the tree of life, but because of sin, the tree of life was put under guard and access was restricted.

As Jesus spoke to the Ephesian Church and to all who read this letter thereafter, he promised: to the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

I just love the way the first book of the Bible and the last book of the Bible agree and complete the circle.

  1. God’s original plan is that we may eat of the tree of life;
  2. Sin has blocked access to the tree of life;
  3. The original plan is restored and the right to eat of the tree of life is offered once again to the one who is victorious, that is, the one who is willing to repent and return to Jesus as their first love.

Go back to: “Listen Up, Church – Introduction” or forward to “Listen Up, Church#2”.

Listen Up GraphicOK, I know I haven’t written much lately, but it’s all going to happen in a rush now. On Sunday mornings at Maida Vale Baptist Church I’m currently preaching through a series called “Listen Up, Church”. It’s based on the first few chapters of Revelation which makes up a letter that was sent by the Apostle John, then an exile on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, to seven churches in what is now Western Turkey.

You can listen to the messages in full at the Maida Vale Baptist Church website.

Well, here goes.  CLICK HERE to go to the first of the series.

Oh, by the way ….  as an introduction to Revelation, you really have to hear Blind Willie Johnston singing the blues classic, John the Revelator. Described as one of the most powerful songs in all of pre-war acoustic music, John the Revelator was first recorded by Blind Willie Johnston in 1930.