The Seven Churches and Us

The challenge in examining ourselves is to examine ourselves, not as we see ourselves, but as God sees us. We often hold ourselves to one standard while God may hold us to another. This is true both individually as well as a congregation. As a congregation, we have successes; we have failures; we have challenges; and we have times of growth. In these times, we have to remind our selves this: that God knows our work and our hearts, that He cares about our work, and that He has standards against which our congregation is measured.

In Revelation 1:13, Jesus is pictured as being present among seven churches of Asia Minor. He walks in their midst. Throughout the next couple chapters, Jesus speaks to the strengths and challenges faced by these congregations. Often, we wish to be like the church of Philadelphia, but, had Jesus addressed us in this book, what might He have said to us?

Jesus’ Address to His Churches

Repeatedly, Jesus begins by affirming He knows these congregations. He knows their works, their deeds, their challenges, their tribulations. This paints a picture of a Savior, not one who is disinterested and uninvolved. Instead, through this, Jesus reassures them and us that He takes an active interest in our lives. He cares about us. He knows what trials we face.

Jesus also speaks to “him that overcomes,” in the letters, reminding us of the reward that lies ahead. Likewise, Jesus repeats, “he that has an ear, let him hear.” These days, we might say, “I know you can hear me, but are you listening?” He is making it clear that the words He shares are important to their spiritual survival. What, then, can we learn from those words, and how can we apply these letters to our own efforts as a congregation?

The Message to the Seven Churches

  • To Ephesus, Jesus commends their efforts in keeping purity among their congregation. He knows they have endured in their work and have resisted evil. However, He chastises them for losing love in their service.
  • With Smyrna, he contrasts their physical poverty with their spiritual wealth. He warns them of impending persecution and promises them reward should they endure.
  • To Pergamum, Jesus praises them for holding to His word even in a place where Satan has a symbolic throne. He warns them, however, that there are those among them holding to false doctrines.
  • With Thyatira, He speaks of their love and their ministry as well as their growth. He holds against them their tolerating a Jezebel among them, leading members of their congregation astray, and he calls for those that have succumbed to her influence to repent.
  • To Sardis, Jesus says they have a good reputation, but He knows they are spiritually dead. He acknowledges, however, that even they have some among them whose robes remain white and pure.
  • To Philadelphia, Jesus promises protection in times of tribulation to come. He knows they have remained faithful, and He encourages them to endure in the times to come.
  • With Laodicea, Jesus criticizes the congregation for being lukewarm, uncommitted, and He warns He will dispense of them if they refuse to repent from their indifference. He admonishes them to see themselves as Christ sees them.

The Message to Us

We are probably most familiar with the letters to Ephesus and to Laodicea, but we can learn from the themes that run through all of these letters. We see Jesus commend, time and again, congregations’ endurance, their intolerance of false doctrine, their love. In contrast, a vein of indifference seems to affect many of these congregations’ efforts. They may have become unloving. They may have tolerated unscriptural teachings in some aspects. They may have been simply going through the motions.

We can relate to letter to Ephesus when Jesus calls on them to return to their first works. When we first obey the gospel, we may be full of energy and enthusiasm, but the cares of this world can wear us down. We can become comfortable with routine and forget the reasons behind those actions. Thyatira stands in contrast to Ephesus, whose later works are greater than their first. One congregation is praised for growing in their efforts while the other was dwindling. Which are we?

To Laodicea, Jesus encourages them to find their strengths. He asks them to find how they can be beneficial. He asks them to either be cold or hot, just as we all need cold refreshment at times and hot at others. We can be soothing or refreshing in different ways – a cold glass of water to some and a warm cocoa to others. Laodicea, however, is neither. They are uncommitted, but Jesus encourages them to simply get to work.

In these chapters, Jesus reminds us that He knows where we are and what we are going through, but the message is the same: “Get to work.” We can fall back on many excuses for lack of ministry, lack of growth, or lack of love, but Jesus calls on us to overcome those excuses. He reminds us to give ear to His word and endure with His promises set firmly before us.

lesson by Tim Smelser

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Revelation In Brief

Because the book of Revelation has become a playground of interpretations, we in the church tend to avoid studying it, seeing it a book we can’s understand. Revelation 1:1 clearly states that it is a book written in signs and imagery, but to really understand Revelation, we have to look at the book through First Century eyes. Avoiding getting bogged down in details can help us see the big picture. It is a book meant to be read and understood by Christians.

Revelation is the final chapter to everything preceding it. It contains over four hundred allusions to the Old Testament. The term overcome appears twenty-four times in the book, describing an overcoming or prevailing over death and the trials of this world. It is written in a time when Emperor worship supersedes all in Roman government. It is a time of conflict and persecution for Christians, so God delivers a message of prevailing over death. John 16:33, Roman 3:4, Romans 12:22 – all these verses contain the idea of prevailing in God.

The number seven is used repeatedly in Revelation, a number that, like ten and one thousand, denotes spiritual completeness. It is a perfect number of completeness in semitic culture, and Jesus uses it this way in Matthew 18 when discussing forgiveness. It is a combination of the divine number three and the four corners of the world – all of Creation and the Creator.

Seven Messages of Hope

William Hendrickson suggests there are seven cycles in Revelation telling the same basic story, a progressive parallelism that begins after the introduction of chapter one.

  • Revelation 2-3: The Seven Churches. In the letters to the seven churches, Christ assures these congregations that He knows them personally. He knows what they are going through. he knows their cares, and He calls upon them to stay faithful. If they overcome, they will receive eternal rewards of life with God.
  • Revelation 4-7: The Seven Seals. The second cycle, beginning in chapter 5, describes a scroll sealed with seven seals. It is perfectly closed to prying eyes. This sealed scroll is in God’s right hand, and none are found worthy to open the seal at first until a Lamb appears that appears once killed but now alive. Through the following chapters, the seals are opened with 144,000 along with a countless multitude in white praising God. Chapter 7:14 describe these worshipers as those who have overcome persecution and tribulation. They are awestruck at the outcome of the sealed scroll.
  • Revelation 8-11: The Seven Trumpets. The seven trumpets herald warnings. Chapter 11:15 records the final trumpet signaling God’s assumption of His people in His kingdom. No nation can stand against this kingdom, and the temple of God opens revealing the ark of His covenant. Judgment is delivered to those who reject God, and His people are brought to their reward.
  • Revelation 12-14: The Enemies of God. Satan is identified as a dragon in Revelation 12:9. The nation of Rome, the act of emperor worship, the enforcing military forces are described as allies of this dragon. As this cycle concludes, the theme of hope returns, promising rest from labors for those remaining steadfast in the Lord’s work.
  • Revelation 15-16: The Seven Bowls. These bowls depict God’s wrath with God’s patient warnings giving way to judgment. The theme of hope repeats even among these terrible events. Those clothing themselves with Christ and acts of righteousness escape judgment. Jesus says to watch, remain prepared, and keep our garments of holiness clean.
  • Revelation 17-19: The Judgment of Harlot. A key to revelation is identifying the harlot city of Revelation 17. It is described as the great city that rules over the world – directing attention away from Jerusalem and onto Rome. Her expressiveness makes the world rich, but an angel proclaims how great her fall will be. In this fall, God’s saints praise Him for purging the world of this corrupting influence.
  • Revelation 20-22: The Final Judgment and Reward. The final cycle depicts the marriage supper of the Lamb and His church, arrayed in the white garments of the righteous acts of her members. Chapter 20:11 describes a great white throne before which none could hide. The Book of Life is opened, and all are judged according to their works. Death is no more, and God’s realm is described as a garden much like Eden, repeating the promise of hope to the faithful.

Conclusion

We may not face the same persecution as those First Century saints, but we still have to remain faithful. We have to keep our robes unblemished of the world, clothed in acts of righteousness. We, like those Christians, look forward to a home with our Father. We see a message of hope and of reconciliation with God through John’s vision that he shares with us in Revelation. We can be washed in the blood of the Lamb. We can know victory in Jesus if we hear the words of our Lord and we overcome the trials of this world.

lesson by Tim Smelser