Revelation Part 12
Lessons from the 7 Churches
Having spent these past several months carefully working through Jesus’ messages to the 7 Churches in Asia – it seems only fitting to go back and put all we’ve learned into a somewhat more compact package. That is my aim today at any rate.
And I’ve chosen to do that in 3 parts.
- A Quick General SURVEY of the 7 Churches.
- A series of general OBSERVATIONS when surveying all 7 churches.
- The Balance of REPRIMANDS vs REWARDS.
I. General Survey
If were to take Jesus’ repeated admonition at the end of each letter, and boil it all down, what would that look like? – 7 cross-cultural and trans-generational warnings.
- EPHESUS: Lack of love FOR Christ, is due to a lack of taking in the love OF Christ for lost sinners – seen best at the Cross.
- SMYRNA: Christians WILL endure trials, temptations and persecutions, and Satan may be squarely behind them at times.
- PERGAMUM: Sexual immorality is a perennial temptation and problem.
- THYATIRA: Systematized false doctrine leading to compromise with the World and sin will emerge IN the Church from among its own.
- SARDIS: Nothing is more deadly to the Gospel, than THE PRIDE OF SELF-RELIANCE
- PHILADELPHIA: The size of a Church either large or small is neither a guarantee that it is healthy nor a guarantee that it is effective. Believers have an OPEN DOOR to the throne of grace.
- LAODICEA: The Church’s ineffectiveness is always linked to a shallow relationship with Christ. Personal communion with God.
Ephesus: Loss of their First LOVE, no apprehension of the wonder of Christ’s love anymore.
Smyrna: FAITHFUL unto death – in spite of severe testing.
Pergamum: IMMORALITY tied to idolatry.
Thyatira: PROPHETESS of compromise
Sardis: Deadliness of SELF-RELIANCE
Philadelphia: OPEN DOOR – poor and weak, but an entrance to the Throne
Laodicea: LUKEWARM – lack of fellowship with Christ producing uselessness.
Now we’ll boil that down even more before we’re done – but let’s just look at a number of overall observations that came to my mind as I was reviewing these 7 letters.
II. A Series of 5 Observations
OBS. 1 – Jesus writes to the Angel of each Church
Addressing the whole Church and its issues while calling upon each individual to take responsibility for all that is said.
Not only are they responsible for what is said to their particular church, but to ALL the Churches.
OBS. 2 – If there is anything we have seen so far in this collection of Jesus’ letters to the Churches in Asia minor, it is that there is no such thing as a “normal” Church.
Each of these is unique in its makeup, circumstances, challenges, advantages and culture.
American culture is obsessed with standardizing virtually everything. But real life has a way of bending and warping every constant we try to impose. We love the idea of “one size fits all.”
We want to be able to say: This is what a local church SHOULD look like. We want a template and a pattern in terms of activity, make up, type of outreach, involvements, etc.
And while in God’s economy there are certain norms and constants, nature itself testifies to the amazing variety God’s genius delights in. For all of the basic simplicity of water, still, no two snowflakes are precisely the same. For all the common traits of humanity, each one’s fingerprints are unique. And though all Believers are joined together in Christ’s church by the same Spirit, each one is still wholly an individual, and so are the churches comprised of these individuals in their particular circumstances and environments.
OBS. 3 – What is interesting to note are the things which DO NOT seem to concern Jesus given the other issues. Things which are nevertheless often what motivate people in assessing a Church they may or may not wish to attend or be members of.
We may give much more weight to things Jesus ultimately finds of little concern, while ignoring areas of grave concern.
Note how Jesus makes no positive or negative statements regarding the size of any of these assemblies.
No church is better or worse because it is large, no better or worse because it is small. This is a human consideration, not a Divine one.
He says absolutely nothing about the giftedness (or lack thereof) of its leadership in terms of preaching.
He doesn’t speak about worship styles.
Not a word about programs. Nothing about the order of their worship services, how many songs they might sing and of what kind – standing, sitting, kneeling or recitations.
How often they take the Lord’s supper, or whether or not people raise their hands in worship.
They had no Hillsong, no Sovereign Grace Ministries, no Keith Getty or Stuart Townend, no Trinity hymnal, Isaac Watts, John Newton or Augustus Toplady music. No smoke machines, lasers and no coffee bars. No organ. No worship team. No PowerPoint.
Jesus says nothing about church polity, how many elders or deacons or how they divide up their respective duties.
Whether or not they have pews, theater or stacked seating or no seating at all.
As you might imagine, He said nothing about air conditioning.
It’s a wonder Jesus would call them churches at all!
What we learn instead is that personal fidelity to Christ, the Gospel and living as unto Him are paramount to Jesus both among the people and the leadership.
And beyond that, the Church may look and sound and behave in very different ways in different places.
In fact, this may serve all of us well as we consider our own assembly, and should any one of us for some reason need to move beyond here and look for another Church sometime.
The things Jesus looks for in a Church are the things we ought to look for. It is not a matter of taste or style, as much as it is of substance.
Is the Word of God faithfully taught?
Is the truth of God’s Word upheld contrary to the errors of the age and false doctrine?
Are people directed to the God of the Bible?
Is holiness of life pursued?
Is love and fidelity toward Christ with the whole man emphasized?
Is the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone because of the substitutionary death of Christ alone preached, protected and passed on to the following generations?
Are all these rooted in the magnificent love and grace of Christ as the starting point?
OBS. 4 – Note what else is absent in each of the letters. Jesus never tells anyone to leave their defective church and run to another. Even in Laodicea, which was only 10 miles away from Hierapolis and pastored by the venerable Papias, and a mere 6 miles from Colossae.
Even these had some viable options within their general region.
I do not want to stress this too far, and to be fair, as best as we know, there was but one “church” in each of these towns. In that sense, there were no other, viable options. Maybe one couldn’t move from Laodicea to Hierapolis or Colossae.
But at the very least, they were to remain in fellowship with THE Church in the larger sense, and not to split off into merely private devotion or forsake the greater Body of Christ – even when it was in pretty tough shape.
I take it from Christ’s showing Himself as walking in the midst of the Churches that at a bare minimum the Gospel was still being preached despite the other problems that He cited. But where there is no Gospel, we must conclude that whatever it might be, what is left is not a true Church in the Biblical sense.
So Paul can write to the really messed up Corinthian Church AS a church when he notes: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that 1Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that 2he was buried, that 3he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that 4he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” They still identified with that, and thus were still a church.
In our generation we’ve seen an increasing tendency among some to say they cannot find a local assembly that comes up to their standards, and so they will just go off and be a sort of little church unto themselves.
But this text seems to omit that as a response to the even very severe problems noted.
In any event, just picking up and moving from church to church is not to be done lightly. 5 of these churches had very serious problems. And yet Jesus never counsels anyone to pack their bags and run. He calls each instead, to focus on their OWN hearing of what the Spirit says to the Churches.
OBS. 5 – All the above said, Jesus DID labor to point out 4 key considerations which apply to ALL His Church(s):
- The need for keeping ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21).
- To expect trial and persecution and to endure it by contemplating our eternal rewards.
- To shun sexual immorality and connections with idol worship and the values of the fallen world around us.
- To deal with false teaching and false teachers.
III. A SUMMARY OF THE REWARDS
We tend to look at these 2 chapters as mainly negative. But that is to misread it in my estimation. While there are in fact 5 exceedingly serious Reprimands, there are also 17 Rewards! More than 3x’s the number of reprimands!
In each letter, there were also great and glorious promises to those who “overcome” those pitfalls.
Ephesus: Those who seek to feed their souls on Christ’s love now, will enjoy an endless, eternal supply, feasting from the Tree of Life in the very midst of the Paradise of God.
Eden, but better.
Crown of Life. Spared the 2nd death.
New name written on the stone that no one knows.
Authority over the nations.
The Morning Star.
Divine recognition before the angelic host.
Public vindication from the persecutors.
Made a pillar in the Temple of God.
The name of God.
The name of the New Jerusalem.
Jesus’ own name.
Fellowship and intimacy.
Sit with Jesus in His throne.
In all this we see the very essence of the Gospel don’t we?
Sin has taken a heavy toll in these churches and Believers, but Jesus is prepared not only to forgive the sin – but to richly, extravagantly reward the faithful repentant – for doing what it is only RIGHT they do!
Romans 5:18–21 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is the Gospel in all its power unpacked even more.
Sin was abounding in 5 of these Churches, but Jesus’ grace toward them all far outstrips all of their failures.
Heaps upon heaps of blessings and benefits are extended to each one who will hear His word, repent and trust Him fully.
An endless, uninterruptable and undefilable Eden in His presence.
The Crown of Life. Spared the 2nd death.
Hidden manna. Secret and absolute satisfaction none but His own can know.
White stone. God’s own vote of His eternal favor before His judgment bar.
New name written on the stone that no one knows – unspeakable intimacy with the Living God.
Authority over the nations. To rule and reign WITH HIM!
The Morning Star. The brightness and fullness of Christ Himself.
White garment. The righteousness of Christ to clothe us and cover all the sin defiled.
Assurance. A steadfast heart in the midst of every storm of life even now.
Divine recognition before the angelic host.
Public vindication from the persecutors faced in this life.
Made pillars in the Temple of God. Absolute security.
The name of God. Marked out as His in some way to define us from all other beings in the universe.
The name of the New Jerusalem. Identified as the place where God chooses to dwell and call home.
Jesus’ own name. Not just Christian’s – but Christ’s own ones – taking His name as our own – as in marriage.
Fellowship and intimacy.
Sit with Jesus in His throne.
All this for failing, sinful but repentant Believers.
All this too for you today if you are still outside of Christ. If you are still trusting in yourself that somehow you’re just good enough to gain Heaven. Not so bad as others, and so you might squeak in.
Or trusting in some rite or religious act like baptism or Bible reading or belonging to some Church – or even trying to make amends for your past sins.
No! The Gospel is a gospel of grace alone or it is no gospel at all.
Philippians 3:4–9 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—
Believer and even unbeliever here today – above all things is this: To belong to Jesus and to have His salvation and the rewards it brings – we must abandon all self-reliance, and look to Him as our all in all. From justification, to sanctification and on to the resurrection and final glorification.
1 Corinthians 1:26–31 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”