If you are reading a “red letter” edition of the book of Revelation (with the words of Christ printed in red ink), you will notice that chapters 2 and 3 are solid red. Jesus is speaking, giving a special message to each of the seven local churches of Asia Minor for which John had oversight in the First Century. And through the miracle of Scripture Jesus is speaking to every church and every Christian of every century.
You will notice that Jesus followed a three-point outline in each message (Yes! Three-point sermons are Biblical!):
1. Jesus said to each church, “I know your works”. The Lord of the “lampstands” (v.13) has perfect knowledge of everything that goes on in every one of His churches. He knows what we are working on, how diligently we are working, what works and what doesn’t, and what we are working against.
2. Jesus said to each church, “To him who overcomes”. He wants us to do victorious work, work that overcomes obstacles to succeed, work that overcomes and overthrows evil.
3. Jesus said to each church, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”. He wants us to lean in and listen to the Spirit.
The constraints of this blog will not allow a thorough treatment of each of the four messages in today’s chapter, so I’ll do my best to summarize the essential truths.
The church in Ephesus (v.1-7) had a record of faithful service, sound doctrine, and endurance in hardship, but the church and her pastor had left their “first love” (v.4). They had outgrown their need to be close to Jesus. They had moved past their dependence on the presence of Jesus. They didn’t love Him like they once had. The only solution was repentance, a return to their original relationship with their Savior (v.5). There are many things we can do and say and learn as believers, but the greatest thing, the summum bonum of the Christian life, is simply loving Jesus above all else. May we never forget that.
The church in Smyrna (v.8-11) was thriving under extreme persecution and poverty. They were being attacked by Satan directly (v.10), and they were being slandered by an entire synagogue of Satanically-empowered Jews (v.9). In the midst of their persecution, Jesus spoke words of comfort to them. He promised “the crown of life”, an award Jesus presents those who serve Him faithfully. He also promised that they would be saved from “the second death” (v.11). There are two possible deaths that you can die. The first is when your physical body dies, and everyone will face that death. But the second death is for those who have not been born again, those who have not repented of their sins and believed the gospel. The second death is eternity in hell. I don’t know what you are going through in your life, but if you are saved I know this: the worst thing that could happen to you today is that you go through the first death and go to be with Jesus. You can face the first death without fear because the second death has no power over you!
The church in Pergamum (v.12-17) existed in a most difficult setting. Their community was known for idol worship and the occult. Satan had a stronghold there (v.13). They also knew persecution firsthand — their former pastor, Antipas (v.13), was burned alive on a pagan altar because he would not deny Jesus. Jesus commended the church for bearing up under that extreme pressure. But He also gave them a harsh rebuke for the worldliness they allowed in the church. The “teaching of Balaam” (v.14) referred to the way some of the members were compromising their Christian convictions to accommodate sin. The “teaching of the Nicolaitans” (v.15) was plain-old hypocrisy, the separation of beliefs and behavior. The simple solution Jesus gave was to repent and to fight the pull toward sin. That is always the answer to temptation and compromise, and Jesus will give His people the strength to do it.
The church in Thyatira (v.18-29) loved the Lord, endured the trials they faced, and made some spiritual progress in the name of Jesus (v.19). But the church was actively tolerating some things He hated. Apparently there was a woman who was a very dominant leader in the church. Jesus chose to call her the name of the most evil woman in the Bible, Jezebel, the Israelite queen who murdered priests and prophets and corrupted the nation. The “Jezebel” of Thyatira was a false teacher who called herself a “prophetess” (v.20). She was sexually immoral, seductive, and Satanic — and she was teaching the people to be just like her. The astounding thing about the situation is that the good, faithful people of the church were allowing her to do it! But the fiery eyes of Jesus were searching the church (v.18, 23) and pronouncing judgment (v.21-23). That ought to motivate us to guard the purity of our doctrine and to be careful about what — and who — we allow into the church.