Dear Saints (Revelation 2:1-3:22)
The letters to the churches in Revelation, which we have been looking at these past seven weeks, were addressed to real 1st Century churches and they find their parallels in today’s churches. Each was marked by distinctive characteristics, each commended, censured and warned according to what Jesus saw in that church. The most important thing to remember is that this is “A revelation of Jesus Christ” and the letters are concerned with the relationship of the churches to him. It is still so today and, although we might not see him, we remember that John’s vision shows Jesus, our Lord and Judge, present among the churches (Rev.2:1). We face the same challenges as those early churches, wealth, poverty, persecution, and need a vision of Jesus among us if we are to respond appropriately and live faithfully in the face of these challenges of which we are surely aware today.
If Jesus were writing a letter to the churches in your area today what might he write? What strengths would he commend, what weaknesses condemn, what actions would he insist you take? As we look at each letter we may well see our church reflected there, even as we may see ourselves in Scripture.
“Ephesus”: The church in Ephesus (Rev,2:1-7) was a steadfast church, enduring hardship, combating the work of false apostles and persevering. Yet they were charged that they had “forsaken your first love”. To them the one “who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lamp stands” says, “Repent and do the things you did at first”. Jesus is intimately involved with his church and cares for everything we endure as well as jealous for our love.
“Smyrna”: The church in Smyrna (Rev.2:8-11) was a persecuted church, enduring suffering and poverty. They are reminded by “him who is the First and Last, who died and came to life” that they are rich in the things of heaven and encouraged to continue in faith, not fearing, and the crown of life would be theirs. Jesus is “the First and the Last”, the Maker and the Judge of everyone, standing above and ruling over all things. He has suffered with us and can identify with our own struggles, holding out the crown of life that he has won so dearly for those who endure in faith.
“Pergamum”: The church at Pergamum (Rev.2:12-17) was commended for doctrinal correctness yet censured for questionable practices and immoral conduct; they were morally compromised. “He who has the sharp, double-edged sword” warns them “Repent therefore!” Jesus is our Judge and he will bring judgement on all those who compromise in the practical way they live, or fail to live their faith.
“Thyatira”: The church in Thyatira (Rev.2:18-29) was commended for their love and faith, service and perseverance yet they were doctrinally compromised. They tolerated a false prophetess called Jezebel and who led them into sexual immorality and questionable religious practices. “These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze” (who has penetrating insight and whose feet are swift to pursue evil and tread it down); Don’t tolerate false teaching or follow secret ways. Only hold to what you have.
“Sardis”: The church in Sardis (Rev.3:1-6) was a counterfeit church. It looked good and had a reputation for life; but it was dead! “These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars...Wake up! This church was on its death bed and didn’t even know. They were told to “strengthen what remains and is about to die”. They were counselled to go back to first principles, to remember what they had received and heard, obey it and repent.
“Philadelphia”: The church in Philadelphia (Rev.3:7-13) was an obedient church. They had kept God’s word and not denied his name. To these the One “who is holy and true, who holds the key of David” promises an open door that no one can shut, the bringing low of their enemies and the promise of being kept in him from the hour of trial which is to come. They are advised to hold on to what they have and they will see the New Jerusalem.
“Laodicea”: The church in Laodicea (Rev.3:14-22) was a materialistic church that boasted in its wealth and yet was described as “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked”. To these “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation” brings an invitation to become rich in the things of heaven, gold refined in fire, white clothes and eye salve that they may see where true wealth lies. It is here, among the Saints in Laodicea, that Jesus stands at the door of each heart, seeking entry.
As we read the letters we find time and again an emphasis on Kingdom priorities: first principles; enduring faith; faithfulness in doctrine and practice, determination in denying error any place and a life of repentance and obedience. Whatever we are doing, as a church or as individuals, we must not abandon our first love, must always remember and obey what we received and heard, must be prepared to persevere in the faith and be true to the name of the one who bought us at such great cost. We will not be especially popular or well thought of for doing so but the one whose assessment of us is paramount holds out to us a crown of life.
Previous Posts in this Series:
A Message of Hope
Remember Your First Love
A New name
The Real Thing