Have you ever felt depressed or confused about the state of the church in America, especially as Christians begin to follow the downward slide of our country’s morals? If we didn’t have the end of the story we might wonder if Christianity would eventually fade away like the pagan religions of old. The forces of evil are, no doubt, very strong. Satan presents ongoing temptations to believers and churches. But not to worry, Jesus has promised that the church will prevail. Jesus is alive and well and in complete control. In Revelation 2, we can learn much about Jesus’ expectations of the church corporately and of believers personally.
DAY ONE: JESUS SENT MESSAGES TO THE CHURCHES.
A. JESUS’ DESCRIPTION SHOWS HIS AUTHORITY.
We begin this section with a review of the description of Jesus in His current role as head of the church and High Priest of all believers. This description given in chapter 1 shows us that Jesus is fully qualified to rule over the church:
- He wears a long robe with a golden sash – appropriate for his office as High Priest and crown prince
- He has white hair – denoting purity and showing his eternal status.
- He has eyes like blazing fire – sees all with piercing judgment
- He has feet like bronze – is strong and unfailing and stands firm
- He has a voice like rushing water – powerful and moving
- He has a face like the sun – with brilliance and glory
- He has a sharp sword in his mouth – ready to execute judgment.
He is no longer seen as a baby in a manger, the meek carpenter’s son, or a suffering savior. He is the glorified Son of God who has the keys to death and Hell. He has been given all authority to judge and to reign. He is the all seeing, all knowing, all wise and all powerful head of His body, the church. Various parts of this description are given at the beginning of the seven letters to encourage the churches.
B. SEVEN LETTERS ARE VARIOUSLY INTERPRETED.
The church stands as a light in a dark world. The church’s significance cannot be overstated, but it always needs help, encouragement, and often correction. So we have these helpful letters to use as a guide. How are these letters to be interpreted?
- Are they simply seven specific churches that existed only at that time?
- Are they typical of churches that will exist throughout the entire church age?
- Are they prophetic of the state of the church in these seven periods of church history?
Ephesus The Apostolic Church 30 – 100 A.D.
Smyrna Roman Persecution 100 – 313 A.D.
Pergamum Age of Constantine 313 – 600 A.D.
Thyatira Dark Ages 600 – 1517
Sardis Church of the Reformation 1517 – 1648
Philadelphia The Missionary Movement 1648 – 1900
Laodicea Church of the Apostasy 1900 – present
The interpretation could involve any or all three of these ideas. Whichever method you choose, we must not lose the main point taught in each one. In every age we need to hear what Jesus says about the role of the local church and our personal role in it.
- What does Jesus promise about the permanence of His church in Matthew 16:18?
- How is the picture of Jesus standing among the lampstands (churches) a comfort to believers?
- What descriptive element of Jesus’ appearance is an encouragement to you today?
- What picture comes to your mind when you think of the person of Jesus? Is your picture from His human life, His current role as High Priest in Heaven at the right hand of God, or His future role as King of Kings?
- Train yourself to think of Jesus as the glorified and powerful High Priest of
Heaven. Call on that power to help in a time of need this week.
DAY TWO: LETTER TO THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS
READ: Revelation 2:1-7
A. WORDS OF COMMENDATION
The letter began with a greeting from Jesus to the church at Ephesus. This city was the capital of Asia Minor and was influential in trade and idolatry. The Temple of Artemis was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Paul labored here for three years and warned the church of false prophets that would come among them. Jesus holds seven stars showing that He is in total control of the angels or messengers of the churches. He walks among the churches to constantly monitor their performance.
How gracious of Jesus to begin with words of commendation for the things that this church was doing right. True compliments are always encouraging.
- They have been a hard working church, doing many good deeds, persevering even during the current persecution from Rome. Undoubtedly they have good programs going with a weekly schedule full of events.
- They have carefully discerned those who were false apostles and have separated themselves from false doctrine promoted by these men. It takes knowledge of Jesus’ teaching, deep insight and careful vigilance to detect false teachers or false prophets.
- They have kept going under very trying conditions brought about by the current hardships and have not faltered or become weary in well doing for the sake of Jesus name. This means deeper and deeper sacrifices to keep it all together.
- They have rejected the teaching of the Nicolaitans. It is thought that this is a group who tried to rob the early church of their freedom in Christ by bringing them under the control of an elite group and separating “clergy” from “laity.” This group tended to lead people to compromise their faith in order to participate in sinful activities. All of God’s people are brothers and have equal access to the father. (Hebrews 10:19) All of God’s people must be wary of temptations from our worldly cultures and worldly leaders, as well as false prophets.
B. WORDS OF EXHORTATION
At first glance, this appears to be an outstanding church with all of the right motives and actions. However, Jesus sees a problem of the heart. With their busy schedules of good works they are losing sight of their savior. They have obviously neglected their devotion to the one who loves them. They are leaving Jesus out of their busy schedules. They have lost their first love. When relationships begin to be neglected or taken for granted, they begin to suffer loss. If this behavior continues, Jesus will remove their lampstand or turn out its light which will eventually cause this church to die. This is a serious warning, but a church without love for their Savior is spiritually dead already. This loss of zeal is typical of the second generation church in the last part of the apostolic age. Their zeal had been tempered by their opposition and persecution, especially from the Jews.
C. WORDS OF PROMISE
The letter ends with a beautiful promise. The person who perseveres until the victory is won will be allowed to eat from the Tree of Life in the paradise of God. Even if the church loses its light, the individual believer who is faithful will experience the beautiful eternal life that is promised to the faithful.
- What is the meaning of the term “overcomer”? (I John 5:4-5)
- At first glance this would seem to mean that salvation is based on perseverance. What does Jesus say about the makeup of the church in Matthew 13:24-30; 37-43)
- Define what makes a person a “wheat” or a true believer and what makes a person a “weed?”
- How deep should a person’s love for Christ be? (Matthew 10:37)
- Carefully examine the condition of your own heart. Is your religion centered on your relationship with Jesus or your own good works?
- Think about your own early days of belief. How would you describe your “first love” for your savior?
- Work out a plan wherein you can spend more time in the Word, in prayer, and in pure adoration of the Savior this week.
DAY THREE: LETTER TO THE CHURCH AT SMYRNA
READ: Revelation 2: 8-11
A. WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT
This church was about 25 miles north of Ephesus with a harbor on the Aegean Sea. Smyrna was a beautiful city, but life there for Christians was ugly. The church was struggling with opposition from two groups: (1) The Jews who were strongly opposed to Christianity and (2) Gentiles who were loyal to Rome and supported Emperor Worship.
This church was undergoing bitter persecution, possibly because they would not bring sacrifices to the Emperor. This was typical of the church in the second period of time when Roman persecution became intense. Jesus reminded them that He died a violent death but rose to live again. Many of their people will die violent deaths, but they can look ahead to their own resurrection. Jesus has much for which to commend this church:
- They were commended for having patience in their suffering. This is an example of how the writer of Hebrews exhorted readers to endure patiently. It is difficult to be treated unfairly and harshly in any circumstances, but to endure patiently reveals the work of the Holy Spirit in believers. This is always a strong witness.
- They were commended for enduring the blasphemy of those who claim to be Jews but are really agents of Satan.
- They were commended for suffering affliction and poverty. Their trials had produced a people who were rich spiritually. Suffering for Christ brings rich rewards in Christ’s kingdom. Earthly loss can be heavenly gain.
B. WORDS OF WARNING
Smyrna had no words of condemnation; instead Jesus gave words of forewarning. This church is about to suffer a 10-day period of persecution in which some will be put in prison and some might even face death.i They were told not to be afraid and to remain faithful during this time. It is a great comfort to know that Jesus knew their problem and was prepared to reward their response.
C. WORDS OF PROMISE
They were again reminded to listen carefully to words that come from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the churches.
- How do you think a person can be in poverty and be rich at the same time?
- How can a person qualify for a “Crown of Life”? (Revelation 2:10)
- What is the second death? (Revelation 20:14-15) Who will experience this death?
- What spiritual riches do you have today?
- How do you react when you experience opposition or persecution?
DAY FOUR: LETTER TO THE CHURCH AT PERGAMUM
READ: Revelation 2:12-17
A. WORDS OF COMMENDATION
The city of Pergamum was the political capital of Asia. It was a sophisticated city of Greek culture and education with a 200,000 volume library. It was also a major center of emperor worship and pagan religious worship. It had many temples, including an altar to Zeus. The temple of Aesculapius actually contained an idol in the form of a serpent. This god was supposed to be a god of healing. Jesus is addressed as the one with a sharp, double-edged sword. This city was ripe for judgment. This church could be compared to the churches in the age of Constantine when the church was married to the state. It had the first temple dedicated to Caesar.
The Pergamum church was praised for standing firm in an area where Satan had a stronghold. The church and the believer often shine brightest in the darkest of places.
B. WORDS OF EXHORTATION
This church had two big problems:
- They have practiced the sin of Balaam. He seduced Israel into idolatry through sexual temptations. This church had seduced God’s people into defiling their consciences by eating meat sacrificed to idols, and committing immorality.
- They had bought into the Nicolaitan heresy that justified their sinful behavior with false doctrines.
They were told to repent of doctrinal and moral compromise. In other words, clean up the church or discipline will soon follow.
C. WORDS OF PROMISE
The letter ended with three enticing promises:
- The overcomer is promised hidden manna. In the Old Testament, hungry people received manna from a supernatural source. The people who follow God may lose their jobs, but God will take care of them.
- They were promised a white stone. In the ancient world a white stone was given to a person found innocent in a trial or found worthy of acceptance into a special place. God’s white stone meant forgiveness and acceptance by God.
- They were promised a new name written on the stone – a name that only they would know. In scripture, new names were often given at a major spiritual turning point in a life.
1. What new names were given to these Old Testament characters? What is the meaning of the new name?
- Abram (Genesis 17:5)
- Sarai (Genesis 17:15-16)
- Jacob (Genesis 32:28)
2. What does Scripture say about Jesus’ new name? (Revelation 19:12)
3. What are the names describing Jesus in Revelation 19:11?
- If new names are descriptive of a person’s calling, what name might describe you?
- Share a time when God supernaturally provided for you physically or emotionally with “hidden manna.”
DAY FIVE: LETTER TO THE CHURCH AT THYATIRA
READ: Revelation 2:18-29
A. WORDS OF COMMENDATION
Thyatira was a working man’s town. It was a military town and a commercial center with many trade guilds. Where guilds thrived, there was usually idolatry and immorality. The message to this small town was very large. The town took pride in its temple to Apollo, the “sun god”. Jesus introduces himself as the true Son of God. He emphasized His piercing eyes and trampling feet, ready to see and judge evil. The problems of this church were typical of churches in the dark ages.
The church was commended for good works, faith, and love. Externally it looked solid and their good works were even increasing.
B. WORDS OF EXHORTATION
Often our evil deeds are hidden by our flurry of activities. The church had a serious problem.
- The church was tolerating a false prophetess called Jezebel, who was leading the people into a corruption of the true religion. She was leading the people into sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols. When confronted, she was unwilling to repent. She will come into judgment along with her followers.
- The believers who did not follow this counterfeit system were told to hold fast to what is pure. It is not easy to stand firm when powerful people are leading in a different direction, a direction that is culturally acceptable but unacceptable to God.
C. WORDS OF PROMISE
There were two promises given to true believers:
- The overcomers will have a part in the Messianic Kingdom. They will rule over nations and exercise judgment on evildoers.
- They will have the morning star – the person of Jesus, while those who refuse to repent will have Satan.
This letter was concluded by once again admonishing those who “have an ear” to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Many other voices will try to lead believers to follow the customs of the cultures in which they live. It is always the words of God that lead to happiness now and great rewards later.
- What happened to false prophets under the Law of Moses? (Deuteronomy 18:20)
- What warnings are given in the New Testament? (Matthew 24:11, 24; 2 Peter 2:1)
- What are some false teachings in our culture that violate God’s word?
- What does it mean to you to have an “ear to hear” when you are listening to a sermon or reading your Bible?
- What has personally convicted you so far in these letters to churches?
The letters to these first four churches expose dangers that still exist for believers.
- We can be busy and be loyal church members but still lose our devotion to the Savior.
- We can be strong in our love but weak in discernment that leads to purity.
- We can subtly be seduced into the world’s practices of immorality and false worship.
- We can tolerate false prophets who are determined to draw us into temptation.
We have been warned. Repent or lose your witness for Christ and your reward. He who is wise will develop ears to hear what Jesus says about pure living.
We have been shown that the Lord of the universe knows every church and individual therein. He cares about how we behave and how we suffer for His sake.
PRINCIPLE FOR THE WEEK
Truth is freely given and richly rewarded to those who choose to hear and obey.
Test yourself against the warnings given to these four churches. Am I guilty of any of these subtle movements away from the Lord – movements that will bring the judgment of discipline into my life and my church?
i We are lacking a complete record of the early history of this particular church, so there is no confirmation of this 10-day persecution period. . Ten different Roman Emperors persecuted the church in the first few centuries, so there could easily have been a 10-day period of intense persecution at some point. Some commentators take this to mean a brief time instead of a literal 10 days
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