If you missed Part 1 check it out here
Chapters 1-3: Letters to the Churches
So let’s start understanding Revelation is talking about. Remember, verse 1 gives us an important message about how to read this book: “Things that must SOON take place.” And then again in verse 3 we read “the time is NEAR”.
We start off by reading that Jesus is coming! He is going to set things right! The wording comes straight out of the Old Testament and reminds us that God does not fail to deliver His people. Many people will point right away to us reading of Christ coming in the clouds as Jesus coming back at the end of time. I don’t think that matches the time frame we read right at the beginning of the book. I think as we continue to read this book it will be obvious to us that we are reading of Christ coming to rescue his Church from the persecution of Rome. In the Old Testament we often read of coming in the clouds as a way to describe God’s judgment. In the same way, the sound of a trumpet is often used before the voice or appearance of God.
Next we read about lampstands. This was a familiar picture (think menorahs) for the Jews. This first chapter tells us that these seven lampstands refer to the seven churches John is writing to. Who is standing in the middle of them? Jesus of course! How do we know that? A few things
- Son of Man is often used as a title for Christ
- The clothing he is wearing is what a High Priest wears (Hebrews 4:4 tells us Jesus is our high priest)
- He has white features since he is pure and holy
- His bronze feet show strength (Daniel 10:6 and Ezekiel 1:7)
Basically, Jesus is super powerful.
John gets told to write everything down. Already John is told that the lampstands are churches and the stars are angels so what does that mean? This book has lots of figures and we should not read it literally.
So now we get to the letters to the churches. Why are these here? They are not separate from the rest of the book. It’s important to remember that this whole book was written to churches going through a very specific experience. Not to people thousands of years later. Also note the creativity in the description of Jesus to each church.
Church in Ephesus
Ephesus had a major harbor and was the wealthiest city in Asia. It contained temples dedicated to Roman Emperors. Ephesus was also a center for crime and immorality. It was filled with sacred prostitutes. This church had worked hard and endured patiently, but they had lost their focus. They had lost their first love for Christ. It makes me think of what Paul says about works for Christ without love in 1 Corinthians 13:3 – “If I give away all I have and deliver my body to be burned, but don’t have love, I gain nothing”
Church in Smyrna
Having a temple to the Emperor was something the city of Smyrna was very proud of. Refusing to worship the Emperor there was seen as a disgrace and un-patriotic. It was dangerous to be a Christian here. There was no knowing what might happen. Jesus tells them to expect prison, death, slander, and especially poverty. Why? To do business there you had to worship Caesar at the altar once a year. It also didn’t help that the Jews were giving Christians up to the authorities. Jesus tells them to endure and be faithful to death.
Church in Pergamum
Pergamum was a great religious center with an altar to Zeus set 800 feet up on the side of the hill. The altar looked like a very large throne which is probably what is called “satan’s throne”. Roman governors were divided into two groups: those with the right of the sword and those without. The governor of Pergamum had the right, which meant he could execute Christians for any reason. However, Jesus refers to himself as the one with the sword. Jesus promises them a white stone which is what was used to indicate someone was found innocent in a trial. They may be found worthy of execution by the government but they are found blameless by Jesus. However, they do have a problem. Some are being swayed by false teaching.
Church in Thyatira
This church has the opposite problem of Ephesus. They have love, but they are falling to false teaching. Jesus warns them because he is going to bring judgment.
Church in Sardis
The church is Sardis had a reputation of being alive and thriving. It was the cool thing to be a member of the church in Sardis. But God saw something different. Jesus says their works were not right in the sight of God. When that’s the case, it doesn’t matter how good the things are that men say about you. Maybe when the world doesn’t have anything bad to say about you it’s a sign that you are too much like the world.
Church in Philadelphia
In the Bible, an open door is an opportunity for evangelism. The church was weak and faced opposition but Jesus was still providing a way for them to make his name known and he expected them to go through it.
Church in Laodicea
This is the only church Jesus has nothing good to say about. This city was proud and felt like they needed nothing. In fact, they were once destroyed by an earthquake and refused help from the Romans because they wanted to rebuild on their own. It was one of the wealthiest cities in the world yet Jesus tells them they are poor. It was a major manufacturer of clothing yet Jesus tells them they are naked. It had a medical enter famous for its medicine for eyes yet Jesus tells them they are blind. Then we have the water metaphor. Loadicea was in the middle of Hierapolis which was known for it’s hot healing springs and Colossae which was known for its cold pure water. Both are useful, but lukewarm water (which was the temperature the water was from both places by the time it was piped to Laodicea) is good for nothing and Jesus spits it out. Also, remember what the door stands for? Well Laodicea is not taking advantage of that opportunity. In fact, we see Jesus knocking at HIS OWN DOOR. He wanted to be let back into his own church.
Now that the letters are complete we will see what will happen to God’s enemies that are persecuting his Church. The book of Revelation is a book of judgment. First we get judgment against the people within the church, now we will get it for the people outside.
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