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Sunday 8 May Alan Aitken

Failing and Fading

Al walks us through Revelation 2:18-3:6 - the letters to Churches of Thyatira and Sardis and the potential lessons and meaning for us individually and as a church. Al encourages us to stand firm and hold on to our faith: to believe what is true, to do what is right, and to repent if we do wrong.

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Life Group Questions

Sunday 8 May

Session 3: Revelation 2:18-3:6

Cheat Sheet

Thyatira was a town of artisans and tradespeople, making everything from pottery, to fabric, to

baked goods. Artisans belonged to guilds: guilds each had various idols and temples where they

worshipped. So, although Thyatira was relatively small and uninfluential in the Roman empire, its

local situation created a particular kind of pressure on Christians living there, particularly those

who worked at a trade.

“That woman Jezebel” is a derogatory term, most likely referring to a woman in the Thyatiran

church (whose name probably wasn’t Jezebel). This woman was offering similar teaching to those

in other churches, encouraging local Christians to compromise their faith and continue

participating in pagan worship. In naming her “Jezebel,” John is referencing a story in 1 Kings 16,

where then queen Jezebel introduced Israel to the pagan god Baal.

Sardis was a city set atop a high cliff, which made it seemingly impregnable. Yet some centuries

before the book of Revelation was written, it had fallen, when enemy soldiers climbed the cliff by

hand and entered the city at an unguarded point. By the time the church was born in Sardis, the

city’s glory and reputation had faded. Both Christians and Jews there were not as intensively

persecuted as they were in other parts of the Roman empire.

“Dressed in white” implies an individual who stands out in purity and victory. The Greek word

leukos implies not just the colour white but also the dazzling impact that a bright, new, clean

garment can have upon the viewer. In the early church, new believers wore a white robe

immediately after their baptism. In the Roman world, white robes were worn by those going on a

victory march through a city.

The Book of Life is an Old Testament concept that describes a register of the names of God’s

chosen. (See, for example, Exodus 32:32-24.) While the New Testament is clear that salvation is a

gift of God, John seems to imply that one’s actions can potentially lead to their name being

removed from this book.

Study

Read Revelation 2:18 – 3:6

Continuing the theme established in last week’s study, some authors have shown that the two

churches addressed in today’s reading also exemplify particular aspects of what it means to be the

church:

The Christians in Thyatira are challenged about their lack of holiness.

The Christians in Sardis are challenged about their lack of passion.

Why are holiness and passion vital aspects of what it means to be the church?

Take a closer look at 2:19. What are the Thyatiran Christians commended for?

This commendation is followed by a long section of strong language opposing a particular strand

of false teaching that had crept into this church. (See the cheat sheet entries on “Thyatira” and

“That woman Jezebel” for more detail.)

How can compromising on our commitment to holiness be destructive in the life of a church?

Jesus is angry that the Thyatirans “tolerate” the person offering this teaching. How does Jesus

respond in vv. 21-23? What do you think of his response?

Scholars think that the false teacher in Thyatira was packaging her ideas as “deep secrets” (v24)

in order to make them seem more appealing. Such an approach is often adopted by cult leaders

and others who want to attract followers with a message that differs from the gospel message in

some way.

What would you say are the essential aspects of being a follower of Jesus?

How would you respond to someone who is offering you access to “deep secrets” or “special teaching” about your Christian faith?

Watch the first 7 and a half minutes of Craig Keener’s video on Revelation 3.

In 3:1, Jesus says “you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” What is the key idea

stated earlier in Revelation that Craig Keener contrasts with this?

Keener also describes the ways in which people in Sardis would have understood phrases like

“come like a thief” and “blot out the name of a person from the book of life.” Here we see how

Jesus is speaking to the church in Sardis by using terms and cultural references that they would

have understood. But these phrases also carry a strong challenge.

What is Jesus challenging the church in Sardis on?

What are some of the ways in which our faith can fall asleep?

If Jesus was to speak to us like this, what might he be challenging us on?

The language about believers who are “dressed in white” evokes the idea of a faith that is bright,

dazzling, and inspiring to others. (See the cheat sheet for a description of this phrase.) What do

you think might make a Christian in New Zealand appear bright, dazzling, and inspiring to

others?

Close with a time of reflection.

How is Jesus challenging you to live your faith out with greater passion and holiness?

Sit with this question for a while.

Optional Extra Resources:

  • Read Romans 14. Debate, as a group, the differences in perspective between these two

passages.

  • Watch The Bible Project’s video on how to read apocalyptic literature in the Bible. This also

provides a good framework for understanding Revelation:

https://bibleproject.com/explore/video/apocalyptic-literature/