In Revelation 2-3 we see John addresses each church in a way that emphasizes not only their standing before the Lord, but more importantly Jesus' authority over them. Kistemaker writes, “Jesus addresses John at Patmos and tells him twice to write letters to the seven churches on the mainland (1:11, 19). He reveals himself as the One who is the First and the Last, who is the living one who suffered death but is alive, and who has ultimate authority over Death and Hades. How absolutely encouraging this is! Also every letter following the address to each church has an opening line that is taken from the description of Jesus that John has recorded, Each of the seven churches presents a different aspect of Jesus’ appearance, power, and authority” (Simon J. Kistemaker, Revelation, New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001], 104, Logos). This was done most likely to provide hope and joy to those who were suffering and needed correction.
As we previously mentioned in the first article in this series, Revelation is all about Jesus! It is about Him as a person, his role, his victory and his sovereignty. Notice that the greetings describe Jesus in multiple ways—for example, the death and resurrection of Jesus (2:8–9), words that describe Jesus in royal terms (2:12), terms of power and authority (2:18), to name a few. Even though the language of Revelation can be difficult to interpret at times, there is no question that some of the churches were failing to understand Jesus’ authority and dominion , and they needed to be reminded that Jesus was sovereign Lord. While having her own status and role within the body of Jesus, each congregation is reminded that Jesus is Lord of all the churches and that each church is responsible both to him and to one another to preserve the gospel and live among nonbelievers as witnesses to it.
Several things need to be noted regarding this fact. First, this brings to light that all must live in complete submission to Christ Jesus. This brings accountability and comfort. But secondly, not only are believers to be accountable to Christ Jesus, but we are also accountable to one another as well. This "go it alone" Christianity that is so prevalent in our midst today, was not anywhere to be found in the Scripture. This brings comfort to know that we belong to Christ, and we belong to one another as well.
We see that these churches were in need of comfort and correction. Notice how John writes as directed in order to do just that. As the churches were facing persecution, they handled the persecution in different ways. As each church is addressed, most of them are encouraged for things such as endurance (2:2–3, 19; 3:10), being faithful witnesses (2:13, 19), and standing firm doctrinally (2:2, 13; 3:8). The difficulty of holding up under pressure shouldn’t be understated. As these churches faced persecution—beginning from inside the churches and then an eventual empire wide persecution—they needed assurance that Jesus was still with for them, loved them and was in sovereign control. The words of encouragement for the churches shows the love and kindness that Jesus has for His bride. Jesus’s words to Thyatira are an excellent way of describing his profound love for them: “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first” (2:19). What an incredible thing to say! Jesus celebrates their current work as greater than the work they had done for him previously. What we learn here is that as we obey God sacrificially, he takes notice and rejoices over us!
Another major component of the letters to the churches is Jesus’s correction of particular sins that have been allowed to seep into the life of the church. Notice that John does not do this right away... He only did this after Jesus commends them for what they are doing in His name. One of the examples of correction is seen in Ephesus, the churches had abandoned their first love (2:4). There is some debate as to what this abandoned love refers to and the overall impact it had on the churches. Morris states, “It is not clear whether this is love for Christ (‘you do not love me now as you did at first’, GNB), or for one another (‘you have given up loving one another’, Moffatt), or for mankind at large. It may be that a general attitude is meant which included all three (‘you do not love as you did at first’, Phillips). Forsaken (aphēkes) is a strong-negative term; they had completely abandoned their first love (the passionate love of a newly married couple). They had yielded to the temptation, ever present to Christians, to put all their emphasis on sound teaching alone. The goal for them was loving correct doctrine with no effect on their hearts. "In the process they lost love, without which all else is nothing” (Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries 20 [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1987], 65, Logos). Perhaps the most negative example of Jesus’ correction could be found in Laodicea, where the churches are found to be neither hot nor cold (3:15). The passion and hope they should have had in serving Christ are not evident, and as a result, the world around them cannot determine the worth of Jesus’ lordship in their lives or the reason for their congregation gathering in his name. Morris states, “To prefer a rejection of the faith to the way the Laodiceans professed it is startling to say the least (cf. 2 Pet. 2:21). But to profess Christianity while remaining untouched by its fire is a disaster. There is more hope for the openly antagonistic than for the coolly indifferent. ‘There is no one farther from the truth in Christ than the one who makes an idle profession without real faith’ (Walvoord). Their coolness was a denial of all that Christ stands for” (Leon Morris, Revelation, 84–85).
Walvoord's assessment is a fair indictment on the current state of our people today. I believe we are a cross between the two examples that I have aptly decided to include for this particular point. I believe that we are making strides and correcting many things as a Christian people, but where we have been is precisely these two places. Many are (or have been) so decidedly concerned with possessing sound doctrine with not Life alteration, or they have become completely docile and lifeless, with not concern for the things of God..., never moved along by the moving of the Holy Spirit of God. Indifference and apathy mark many places with a church name. This indictment is said, not in anger, but with sadness mingled with hope that God will move us from apathy to spirit filling and joy once again.
Believers must remember our identity in Christ Jesus, and one of those marks is that we are to be salt and light in the world we live in. If we are to be salt and light then we must be willing to let Jesus examine us from time to time, to ensure that the gospel means to us what it should. As we listen to his voice, it’s important to remember that sometimes Jesus uses other people to both celebrate and correct us. After all, these churches were being held accountable by John, who was relaying the message to them from Jesus. Sometimes Jesus uses others to lead us to examine our lives and to look only to Jesus, so that we can ensure we are sharing the good news that changed us with a world that desperately needs to know it’s in need of change. God uses us to help other's look to the only One who can make All Things New.
For some weeks now, our congregation at Twin Lakes has been studying the book of Revelation at an aerial view. Far too many have approached the book in years past from a dispensationalist's view, seeking to unpack the vision genre from a word by word exegetical approach, thus missing the main point of this book..., Jesus our Victor, makes all things new. This is the not only the whole theme of Scripture, but most importantly it is the summary of the final stage of the whole book's theme.
Sometimes the challenge of reading Revelation is found -not in the mystery of it, but rather in overcoming our pre-understanding of it. I believe it is due to our association of the book’s Greek title (apokalypsis) with the way we understand the idea of “apocalypse” in modern English language. When speaking of the title, NT Wright says, “This is partly because the original word, ‘Apocalypse’, wasn’t well known at the time of earlier translations into English. Now, of course, ‘apocalypse’, and its cousin ‘apocalyptic’, have become well known in English. Perhaps too well known: they have come to refer, not so much to the sudden unveiling of previously hidden truth, but to ‘apocalyptic’ events, violent and disturbing events such as natural disasters (earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis) or major and horrific human actions. In that sense, September 11, 2001 was an ‘apocalyptic’ event” (N. T. Wright, Revelation for People, New Testament for Everyone [Louisville: John Knox Press, 2011], 1, Kindle)
We tend to get lost in the interpretive trends of the last century, which often seek to fog up John’s historical vantage points, and jump headlong into the application of the book to current events. When explaining Revelation as a book, Wright argues “‘Revelation’—the idea, and this book—are based on the ancient Jewish belief that God’s sphere of being and operation (‘heaven’) and our sphere (‘earth’) are not after all separated by a great gulf. They meet and merge and meld into one another in all kinds of ways. For ancient Jews, the place where this happened supremely was the Temple in Jerusalem; this is not unimportant as the action proceeds. Most humans seem blind to this, only seeing the earthly side of the story. Some are aware that there is more to life, but are not quite sure what it’s all about. Ancient Jews struggled to see both sides of the story, though it was often too much of an effort” (N. T. Wright, Revelation, 3). Well, we of course learn in this book, it is all about the Lion and the Lamb, Jesus Christ (Revelation 5.)
The key to understanding Revelation is summed up in recognizing the significance of Jesus’s death and resurrection as the source of the believer’s victory in life and death (Revelation 1:4–6).
Jesus is described as “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.”
Each phrase has an emphasis intended to paint a picture of Jesus as victorious and worthy of praise.
Revelation paints a courtroom scene for us, where the evidence for God’s final victory is displayed in prophecy, witness, judgment, and reward. The testimony of God’s great victory is summed up in 1:5–6, when Jesus is said to have “freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.” Revelation seeks to remind the churches being addressed—both standalone and the Church as a whole—that the work of Jesus has given them opportunity to be complete and holy only in relation to God through the perfection of the Son. The author’s encouraging words of assurance relate both to the current historical situation of the churches during the time of John and also to the promise of Jesus’s imminent return to set all things right.
I am a great sinner saved by far greater grace. God has blessed me with a wonderful family and a beautiful Gospel congregation at Twin Lakes Bible Church.