Revelation series, post #7

Recap

Let’s start with a quick recap of the four main steps in the Inductive Method of Bible study:

  1. Pray – the Spirit is our Teacher and Guide.
  2. Observe – only looking at what the text says – do not jump to any conclusions here.
  3. Interpretation – ask about the meaning to those to whom the book was originally written. Here we ask why questions; we do not ask about ourselves or our society in this step.
  4. Application – application is the goal of Bible study, leading to transformed lives and societies, but it is the last step in the method. Jumping to application prematurely can lead to incorrect doctrine.

Bear these steps in mind as we get into the text.

Activity

Try getting into the method a little for yourself:

  1. Pray. Open up to Revelation in your Bible and ask God to give you discernment in understanding its message to the original readers, and the application for your life today.
  2. Observe. As you look at the seven churches, you’ll see a pattern emerge in the format of Christ’s words to them – again the number 7 is seen (remember it is the number of completion).See if you can observe the following in each church’s message:
    1. Christ’s summon of the church
    2. Christ’s character
    3. Christ’s commendation: “I know”
    4. Christ’s complaint: “I know”
    5. Christ’s challenge
    6. Christ’s threat
    7. Christ’s covenant promise -> each gets promise of eternal life

The 7 Churches; 1:9-3:22

Consider 1:12-16. What is the first thing that John sees in his vision?

7 golden lampstands, and between them one like the son of man clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

We see from v18 that this Son of Man is Jesus – the one who died and is alive. 

Then we go on in v20 that: The 7 stars are the 7 angels of the 7 churches, and the 7 lampstands are the 7 churches. There are two main views about the angels of the churches; angel literally meaning “messenger”. The first view is that it is referring to the eldership of the church (pastors). Alternatively that it refers to an actual angel standing in protection over the church.

So the  first thing John sees = Jesus is standing in the midst of them.

WHAT AN INCREDIBLE IMAGE FOR THE ORIGINAL READERS! Jesus knows what they are going through, and He is right in their midst as they endure it. He was also killed, but now He lives forever. What’s more, He lives in power and in glory.

And what encouragement for us too. Jesus said in Matthew 28:20: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He sent us His Spirit to dwell within us, and He walks amongst us.We have a God:

  • who died for us
  • who rose to life again
  • who lives forevermore
  • who brought us into life with Him
  • and who has not deserted us, but continues to walk us through any trial or suffering that we endure on His behalf.

We read Jesus’ words in John 16:33: I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

So if Christ standing with the 7 churches was the first thing that John saw, what is the first thing that Jesus speaks to John in v17?

. . .

FEAR NOT!

Why? Because Jesus defeated death and holds the keys of Death and Hades. They are SAFE in HIM. What scares you most about following Christ? Where are you prepared to go for Him? What are you prepared to do for Him? What are you willing to sacrifice for Him? Challenging, yes, but this book shows us that Christ is sufficient!

Report cards

Now we are going to see Jesus address each of the 7 churches individually as they get their report card from Jesus. Remember the pattern mentioned in the “Activity” section at the start (we won’t be going through it here as it is all observation, but I recommend you write it out for yourself in table form):

  1. Christ’s summon of the church
  2. Christ’s character
  3. Christ’s commendation: “I know”
  4. Christ’s complaint: “I know”
  5. Christ’s challenge
  6. Christ’s threat
  7. Christ’s covenant promise -> each gets promise of eternal life

There are two main  streams for how to interpret the churches. Firstly, as literal churches in Asia Minor at the time of Christ. They have symbolism thrown in, but most of Christ’s words to the churches can be literally interpreted. John is commanded by Christ is 1:11 to send these words to these 7 churches so this seems the best interpretation to me. Alternatively some will see each church as representing a different periods of history. One of the problems with this is to set the exact time frame of history when each “church” starts and ends.

The big picture is simple: the churches are messed up, but Jesus stands in the middle of them, in the middle of his people (Jesus stands amongst the lampstands).

Map of the churches

Let’s look at each church’s report card. As we do, imagine how each church would feel as they received their report card from Jesus.

Ephesus

This is the church you probably know most of from Paul’s epistle to them. Paul’s letter was all about emphasising who they are in Christ, and how to walk worthy of their position in Christ. Now we read that they are doing that well! They are toiling and enduring. They are holding up against evil influences. BUT what does Jesus have against them in v4?

. . .

They have abandoned the love they had at first.

What are the two greatest commandments that Jesus gave us?

. . .

Love God, and love others. The Ephesian church began to let works come before love for God and love for others. We need to be sure we do not fall into this same trap – getting too caught up in good works and taking our focus off God. Everything must flow out of intimacy with God.

You may also wonder who the Nicolaitans refer to. The simple answer = we don’t know. Some suggest they were a first-century sect claiming apostolic authority. Others suggest it is an untranslated word(nika = conquer, rule; lao = laity) and say that certain leaders were using their clerical stature or position to rule over the laity (when Christ commanded that those who will lead will be the servant; John 13).

Again, there is no clear interpretation for Christ’s threat to “come and remove your lampstand” unless they repent. There have been many opinions offered. Perhaps the interpretation is as simple as that they will lose their prominence, losing their influence as a church (not salvation). Remember John, himself, was based in Ephesus so it would have been a very prominent church. Another common suggestion is linking it back to the lampstands at the start of Revelation, and that Christ will remove His presence from the church as a body.

Smyrna

You’ll see when you make your observations that a couple of the churches have a few things missing. The churches of Sardis and Laodicea have no commendation given to them. Jesus had nothing good to say about them! On the other hand, Smyrna and Philadelphia have no complaint made against them; not that they were perfect churches, but Christ was content with their hearts in the midst of their situations.

Smyrna became the centre of Emperor worship from 23AD. When believers stopped falling under the protection of Judaism (that was allowed to be monotheistic, and not thus not required to worship Caesar), the Jews would often inform the Roman authorities of the Jewish Christians who had been cut off from their synagogues. Christians then had the choice to worship Caesar or be persecuted under Roman law.

Smyrna was known at this time as a rich city, and yet we read these believers were poor. Participation in emperor worship and pagan cults was expected in all areas of life and to abstain from such was to put yourself at a disadvantage in business and occupational dealings.

Believers in Smyrna were suffering financially for their faith, and remaining strong in their testimony despite the personal cost, and so Jesus lays no complaint upon them. He gives them warning of more woes to come, but reminds them that their eternal state is assured and safe in Him.

Revelation 2:10 says they will have tribulation for 10 days. Some will give this to mean a literal period of 10 days; others, a short time; or alternatively, looking at 10 as a symbolic number = worldly power, they will give it as the period of  complete human time of their suffering. The application is that Jesus does not promise us safety in this life!

I have been told by well meaning, Christian friends many times that if Jesus has told me to do something then He will keep me safe in it. This just doesn’t align with the New Testament! Some of us will face persecutions; in fact, the New Testament promises it! Revelation is a book of comfort for the security we have in Christ – that we are in the book of Life; our hope is an eternal hope.

What is your report card – as a church, and as an individual?

Pergamum

What description does Christ give of Himself in V 12?

. . .

Jesus is the One with the 2-edged sword. Pergamum had the Roman governor living there, who held “jus gladii”, “the right of the sword”.This meant that “the governor had the power to determine if someone was deserving of capital punishment. Jesus is making a play on words: “You think you have the right to determine life and death, but you don’t; I DO.”

Another potentially difficult verse is 2:13, which says they dwell where Satan’s throne is, where Satan dwells. Again, there are a few different  opinions: 1) In reference to them dwelling in the location that was the centre of Zeus worship; 2) A lot of evil they are in the midst of; or 3) Referring to things occurring within the church, although this is less likely because they are believers.

What we see is overall is that the Pergamum Christians are holding fast to His name, but some hold to the teachings of Balaam. So what are these teachings? In the Old Testament, Balaam was paid to curse the Israelites. Three times he tried to curse them, but could only bless them. Revelation tells us that he understood Jews weakness was sexual immorality and, since he couldn’t curse them, he told the king how to weaken them and this was through intermarriage and immorality. So the wrong teaching in this church is related to sexual immorality.

One final question you might have is around their promise: hidden manna, and a white stone. What might the hidden manna refer to? Manna is what the Israelites were fed in the wilderness, so the Pergamum church will receive their sustenance in Jesus. The white stone has many interpretations. One that I think likely is the ancient Roman custom of awarding white stones to the victors of athletic games. The winner of a contest was awarded a white stone with his name inscribed on it. This served as his “ticket” to a special awards banquet.Jesus promises the overcomers entrance to the eternal victory celebration in heaven.

Thyatira

What is their positive report, as per 3:19?

. . .

They’re doing well in love, faith, service and endurance. That sounds pretty good!

But they tolerate Jezebel. So what does this mean? It is unlikely that the reference is to an actual woman. There is a ton of theology on Jezebel in existence, and 99% of it has no Biblical reference! When we look to the Bible, we go to the book of Kings. She was an evil woman (and queen of Israel) who turned Israel to the worship of Baal and idols, and killed God’s prophets. Baal worship involved abhorrent practices including a lot of sexual immorality. So Jesus is saying that they tolerate a lot of sexual immorality and idol worship (similar to the church of Corinth).

Finally, what about their rebuke about eating food to idols? Paul told the Corinthians that they had the right to eat it, but not if it hurts others. So it is likely that some in the church are weakening the faith of others by eating these foods, or they are going to the temple to be involved in festival and cult rites. Food and sex was often mixed in the pagan rites.

Sardis

Sardis is the first church that gets no positive report from Jesus. Imagine waiting for your report card from Christ . . . only to find that you are failing in all areas!

Jesus gives them some strong words! Consider Rev 3:1a-2 “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.

They think they are doing well, they look good on the outside, but in reality they are a living corpse. And they are close to losing their salvation! Yet there are a few who are holding firm to Christ. This is a call to seek God, before works. He is to be our first priority. It is His praise we are to seek, not man’s praise.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia is the second of the two churches that only get commendation from Jesus. This does not necessarily mean all A’s  on their report card, as we all have room to grow, but no failing marks!

How does Jesus refer to Himself in 3:7?

. . .

Jesus calls Himself the One who holds the Key of David, and hold the doors. The Jews had a practise of putting people outside of the synagogue, but Christ reminds them not to fear Jewish persecution, there is nothing they can do to you. God holds the keys to life; only He can determine who is in Him and who is not.

The one who conquers is promised to become a “pillar in the temple of my God“. We know from the end of Revelation that there is no Temple in eternity, because God dwells in our midst. So what does this mean? God is saying they will have a place of prominence and significance in the Kingdom of God; they will be upheld before His people. What an encouragement to the original readers that they will be pillars for God, and have His name upon them. This is a call to endurance.

Laodicea

The final church also receives no positive report from Jesus.

What is Jesus’ complaint in 3:15-17?

. . .

They are called lukewarm, although they claim to be rich.

Laodicea was a very rich city from industry, banking and commerce. It lay on an important cross-roads and was surrounded by fertile land. When many cities in the area were destroyed by an earthquake, they were the only ones that did not have to appeal to Rome for help. They rebuilt on their own, and their self-sufficiency was a source of pride for them. However the city had no permanent water supply and thus had to pipe water from hot springs, which arrived lukewarm as was not pleasant to drink.

Jesus reminds them that physical gold is not what they are to take pride in. He is the one that gives refined gold and pure garments. He is the One they are to seek if they will be truly rich – like the Smyrnan church. Jesus reminds them that He disciplines and reproves those He loves, and He expects them to welcome the refining. We, too, need to welcome His refining and allow the Spirit to transform us.

Jesus tells them that He stands at the door and knocks. Remember that this is being spoken to the church, not to unbelievers, so it is not in reference to salvation. The Laodiceans are living lives of hypocrisy, self-sufficiency and pride. Christ is saying “I’m standing here waiting for you; let me in, let me fellowship with you”. They thought they didn’t need God; Jesus is reminding them that they do, and desperately!

This church reminds us to check our source. Are you doing this on your own? Are you relying on Christ, or your own strength? Are you walking in self sufficient, or complete reliance on Christ?

Are you earnestly pursuing God every day?

Comparing the Churches

The ones God goes after the most are: pride, self-sufficiency, not pursuing God, and  being spiritually dead. The messed up churches don’t get as great of a rebuke because they are growing, they are enduring, and there is passion remaining as they strive to know Him more. He is most concerned about dead people. He isn’t demanding perfection; He wants growth as we seek Him. He wants people who pursue Him. He is knocking on the doors of the churches who are dead to Him, and calling them back to pursuit of Him above all else.

Application from the churches

The churches call us to evaluate how we are walking. 

  • Are we seeking Him in Scripture, or Knowledge?
  • Do we care about His approval, or man’s?
  • Are we walking in love of God and others, or relying on works
  • Are we willing to suffer loss for Him – of name, job, opportunities, respect, finance . . . ?
  • Are we willing to endure persecutions, and even martyrdom, whilst holding to the promise of eternal life in Christ?
  • Are we counting all as loss except the upward call of Christ? (Phil 3:13-14)
  • Are we counting it all joy when we meet trials (James 1:2)?
  • Are we content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, for Christ’s strength (2Co 12:10)?

As you study Revelation, you will see that it is not a book that promises us temporal relief, physical blessings, or reprieve from trials. But it is a book that puts eternal comfort and hope into our hearts, and strengthens us to live for Christ in this life so that we might win our reward in the next.

 

Next blog, we will get into the unfolding drama of Revelation as we start to look at the acts.

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