I recently stumbled upon a little book by a fellow named Derek Thomas called, “Let’s Study Revelation.” At the beginning of the book Derek makes observations about the particular Words of Jesus Christ to the particular churches addressed in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. I found these observations to be sobering, convicting, and edifying all at once. So – without further adieu – I now share Derek’s observations with you:
There is a pattern in each of these seven letters. Jesus makes a spiritual assessment of these churches based on two fundamental issues:
i. Each letter tells us something that Jesus ‘knows’ about the church. Five of them spell it out as, ‘I know your works’ (2:2, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). His assessment is based not simply on their knowledge of the gospel , but on what they do with that knowledge. ‘What have you done with the gospel?’ is the measure by which the church is judged. Faith is expressed in terms of faithfulness.
ii. A willingness to suffer for the gospel is one of the principal ways of measuring spiritual faithfulness (2:3, 13, 19; 3:8). The cross has to be more than a symbol of what Jesus did in the past; it must also represent the way the church suffers for Jesus’ sake! From the very beginning, the cross is the way to life, and death the way to victory. Suffering for the sake of righteousness and spiritual maturity are always married together. The church walks in the footsteps of a crucified Saviour.
How do churches fare? Only two churches avoid criticism, Smyrna and Philadelphia. The rest receive stinging rebukes. In summary, we can say that Jesus is concerned about three things:
i. Many of the churches emerge as compromised rather than committed. There is praise, too. But there are serious areas of concern. Sexual immorality and idolatry are the chief problems in a least two of the churches (Pergamum & Thyatira). In both, false teaching had led to false behaviour, as it always does.
ii. Two of the churches have developed a concern for reputation (Sardis & Laodicea). When the church thinks more of how the world perceives her rather than how Jesus perceives her, she is on the verge of apostasy. Size, numbers, financial balances, these are statistics that can damn a church.
iii. Ephesus, together with Laodicea had become content with mediocrity. They had ‘forsaken their first love’ (2:4). The Laodicean church was typical of this, in that it was ‘neither cold nor hot’. These churches had abandoned the zeal that had insisted on nothing but the best for Jesus. Their approach to discipleship had become minimalist. ‘How little can I get away with?’, rather than, ‘What more can I do?’
…in the book of Revelation John is being given a pictorial representation of a far greater reality: that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of far greater magnitude and potential threat (Eph. 6:12). There are forces at work in this world that bring men and women into the most terrible bondage. They work among those who have not been sealed to bring about utter futility. As John puts it elsewhere, ‘We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one’ (1 John 5:19). In far less dramatic terms, John uses a word that conveys the idea of a mother rocking her baby to sleep; the devil cradles the world in his arms. Incomprehensible demonic powers are released into human history that are at one and the same time attractive and repulsive. John’s description is curiously appealing, yet hideous: human faces, crowns of gold, women’s hair are contrasted with lion’s teeth and scorpion’s tails. The book of Revelation is teaching us to see that the world in which men and women live is both beguiling and brutal at the same time. The brutality is often masked, but it is nonetheless vicious and ultimately devastating. The whole world is in the grip of the evil one.
That bit about being more concerned about how the world perceives us rather than how Jesus perceives us is EXTREMELY SOBERING!
*Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:10-12)