Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29)
Picking up from Revelation 2:18 we see the church in Thyatira, and we see the common flow of the letter framework. Reference to the characteristics used to describe Jesus from chapter 1 sees Him called the Son of God. This points directly to this city's patron deity Apollo, son of Zeus. Casaer was also known as the son of god too, so again we see a city full of pagan, Greek and Roman cults and gods, but we now see Jesus as the true Son of God.
This church was known for its metal works and we also see the inclusion of Jesus's feet which are like burnished bronze. Every church that Jesus writes to understands that their letter is specific to them and relates to their situation, but as we extrapolate the message out, we are able to learn and apply these teachings into our lives and here we see that this church has many points of praise. They have love and faith, they are a serving community, and have perseverance - many good qualities that Jesus praises them for.
However, we see more Old Testament codes used in this letter when it comes to their rebuke. The name Jezabel comes from the daughter of the priest-king Ethbaal, ruler of the coastal Phoenicians who married King Ahab, who ruled the kingdom of Israel. Through this relationship, we see the introduction of Baal worship to the people of Israel. We now find a group in the church of Thyatira following a woman Jesus calls Jezabel. She is leading them into sexual immorality and eating food that has been sacrificed to idols. This is a common theme that we see again here. The culture that exists in this region sees idol and god worship as part of everyday life, common meals shared in the temples. To abstain from it would have social and economic impacts, but we see here that Jesus is very clear on how we are to stand fast against the culture of the world around us. Rome was accepting of these multi-deities because they didn't threaten the role of Rome, namely being number 1 in people's loyalty. Here are the Christians though, who are united through Jesus, their one true God, who refuse to be influenced by the culture even to their detriment. They were seen as a threat, and so codes had to be used in these letters.
The Apostle Paul also wrote about accepting and eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. See 1 Corinthians 10:25-28:
Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience.
How do we react when we interact with the world around us? Swearing and bad language is an easy one, but more challenging are the ethics around the slave trade, for example, certain brands and foods. What about refugees in a country that receives so few yet treats them so... terribly. Are we in danger of following our own Jezabel? In a world full of idols, while we might not have temples, this world sure does worship things other than the one true God. The one true God that we must continue to profess and the one that we must deny all others for.
Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6)
The church in Sardis is what happens when the corruption of a few, and the influence of the culture, become too widespread and too far gone. When we become comfortable and complacent. This church has no commendations and while it thinks it's alive, Jesus says they are dead and they are to repent.
This church had a big Jewish community and that community was intertwined with the culture. A large synagogue has been excavated and can be seen linked to the gymnasium of the city. This city had a proud history and past glories. It was high on a hill and in its past had been the site of an "impregnable" fortress. A fortress that had however fallen twice in its history. Both times it had been taken by surprise due to the people becoming complacent. We now see Jesus's call to them to wake up!
This church had become spiritually dead through its close relationship with the Greco-Roman culture. However, we do see a remnant referred to. While people would dress up in clean (unsoiled) clothes to go to the idol temples, Jesus here makes reference to the ones in the unsoiled clothes being worthy and He Himself being victorious and dressed in white. The link to clothes is pointing to this city's industry of woolen clothes and wool dying. Reference to the blotting out the names from the book of life also points to the time that the city was known as an archive, a place of record keeping.
These letters are clear and specific to the churches of Asia Minor, but the timeless messages are there for us to learn from and hold on to. Compromise and corruption, and perseverance in the face of persecution. These are two sides of a coin that we must battle with even today. The culture and the world are not built on the Word of God and as we exist in this world we must continue to ask ourselves: "what does God say about this?" Every day and every decision must be rooted in the Word of God and our lives must be built on the foundation of Jesus Christ.