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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Revelation - John Sends Letters to Churches

I guess I'll just have to post more than one study per week to finish this by Pentecost. But the next study's ready "already" so here goes...

3: Revelation 2 & 3: John sends seven Letters

If these seven churches represent God’s church throughout the world and throughout time, it might be interesting to see to what extent our own churches are like or dislike them, and the to what extent the same warnings and praises might be relevant to us.

Note, each letter is written in the same format:

To: … church’s name
From: … a depiction of Jesus and His relationship to His church
Credit: … for something the church is doing right
Problem: … pointing out something the church is doing wrong
Repent: … a warning and call for change
Listen: … a message and promise for hope
Reward: … followed by a reminder of our eternal hope.

1. Ephesus
To: The metropolitan mother-church, in the city of the Temple of Diana (who was said to have fallen from heaven like a meteor – Rev 2:5). The city was a place where trade items were measured (Rev 2:2).
From: Him who holds the seven stars (Rev 2:1) – To hold is to love, and the stars in chapter 1 represented the churches: Jesus loves his church.
Credit: They have a zeal for truth.
Problem: They’ve lost their first love (Rev 2:4).
Repent: or the church will be condemned, which is not the same as saying the people will (Rev 2:5).
Listen: if you have ears to hear.
Reward: The tree of life (see references in Genesis and Revelation).

2. Smyrna
To: A city that was destroyed and rebuilt, and was by now almost as important as Ephesus (Rev 2:8).
From: Jesus who was dead and rose from the dead (Rev 2:8) – Jesus conquered death
Credit: They are rich even though poor (Rev 2:9).
Problem: They’re about to suffer (Rev 2:10).
Repent: Do not fear (Rev 2:10).
Listen: Their suffering will only be temporary (Rev 2:10, 10 days symbolizes a “humanly countable” time)
Reward: They won’t be harmed by the second death (see later in Revelation, where death of the human body is followed by death as punishment)

3. Pergamum
To: The center of the cult of worshipping Caesar (Rev 2:13).
From: Jesus holds a double-edged sword (Rev 2:12) as He battles against false teaching.
Credit: They bear faithful witness.
Problem: They have fallen into following false teaching. (Rev 2:14). In Numbers 22: Balak summoned Balaam to tempt the Jews into compromising with local religious customs.
Repent: or Jesus will return. (Jesus’ return in Revelation is at the end, when all who will be saved have been saved and there are no second chances. We might want to be wary of “forcing” Him to return.)
Listen: to the Spirit.
Reward: They will receive hidden manna (the bread of life, not polluted food). They will bear white (memorial) stones and a new name (Rev 2:17, Isaiah 56:4-8).

4. Thyatyra
To: The least important town gets longest letter. It was a center for brass-working (Rev 2:18).
From: The one with feet of burnished bronze. (In Daniel 10, the mighty one who appears in response to faithful prayer is the one with the burnished bronze feet.)
Credit: God credits their love, faith, service, and patience.
Problem: They allow a false prophet, a Jezebel (1 Kings 16) to teach. They tolerate heresy (Rev 2:20). They dress false teaching up as something superior to what they have already learned (Rev 2:24).
Repent: Those who follow false teaching will receive what their works deserve, but those who don’t are saved by the works of Christ (Rev 2:23).
Listen: Hold fast.
Reward: They will receive authority to rule (Rev 2:26), and the morning star (Rev 2:28, 22:16, 2 Peter 1:19)

5. Sardis
To: A city conquered twice when its guards were asleep (Rev 3:2). Sardis was a center for the woolen trade (Rev 3:4-5)
From: Jesus has the seven Spirits and seven stars – God’s perfect, fully planned authority over (Spirit) and knowledge of (star) the churches (Rev 3:1).
Credit: Something remains (Rev 3:2).
Problem: They’re asleep. They’re dead.
Repent: Jesus will come like a thief (Matt 24:43).
Listen: Walk with me and conquer.
Reward: They will wear white robes. (Remember the parable of the wedding feast, Mat 22:12.) Their names will be in book of life. Jesus will stand up for them/us.

6. Philadelphia
To: The city known as the Gateway to the East (Rev 3:7). A city of loyalty and brotherly love, founded by Attalus who was known for supporting his brother. The land was prone to earthquakes.
From: The head of house of David, the Chief steward of God’s Kingdom (Rev 3:7, Isaiah 22:22)
Credit: They are faithful and loyal.
Problem: They face opposition from Jews.
Repent: The opposition will bow down (Isaiah 49:22-23).
Listen: A call for patience and endurance. (Oddly, this doesn’t read like a call for Christianity to triumphantly conquer the world when things get tough. God does the conquering, not us.)
Reward: They will stand as a pillar in the Temple (we are God’s temple). They will have permanence (even in earthquakes Rev 3:12). They will belong to the New Jerusalem (seen later in Revelation)

7. Laodicea
To: A rich city (Rev 3:17). Water from the aquaduct was lukewarm and unpleasant to taste (Rev 3:15), by contrast with the hot springs in Heiropolis and the cold mountain waters of Collosus. Laodicea was the place where black woolen garments were made (Rev 3:17), and the location of a famous medical school (Rev 3:17).
From: God who is faithful and true (Rev 3:14), unlike the Laodiceans (Rev 3:15).
Credit: This is the only letter that doesn’t record any credit. It’s also the one that most often seems to fit the modern church.
Problem: They think they are better than they are. They have no true commitment.
Repent: Buy gold refined by fire, white clothes, and heavenly eye-salve. Be earnest.
Listen: God rebukes those he loves. He stands at the door and knocks.
Reward: He will eat with us. We will share his throne.

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