220906 – Lesson 2
Assignment from Last Week: What is the meaning of the Stars and the Lampstands?
Scene 1: Revelation 1:9-3:22
The opening scene is a grand vision of the living Christ who dictates the letters to the seven churches.
I, John, your brother who shares with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”
Old Testament patterns are apparent in this scene as in the teachings of Balaam and Jezebel. See Jude 11; 2 Peter 2:15; 31:16 (These women here, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the Lord in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the Lord Num. 31:16).
The Seven Messages Together:
The seven messages have one overarching issue, and that is whether or not to compromise. Will these churches be faithful witnesses both to Jesus and like Jesus by refraining from participation in the cultural norm of pagan religion, including the imperial cult, even if it contains serious consequences: social, economic, and political? Will they join the Nicolaitans, Balaamites, etc. who are engaging in various forms of compromise and accommodation which John labels idolatry?
An important point to keep in mind is this. John was writing to the disciples at the Seven Churches to be aware of the pull of Rome against their commitment to Christ. In fact, in the entire New Testament, you have a backdrop of Rome and the constant possibility that it could supersede Christ and become the “religion” of the people. Compare this with Marjorie Taylor Green’s comments about Christian Nationalism. Or Lauren Bobert with her family picture with everyone holding an AR-15. That is not different from what John feared for his churches.
It is the task of Revelation, in part, to convince its hearers and readers that faithful discipleship has both costs and rewards. That is why the seven messages contain both words of challenge and promises drawn from the visions of Chapters 21 and 22.
That Revelation 2-3 contains an outline of church history seems forced and far-fetched. But the idea that these seven churches somehow symbolize the range of possible Christian churches – particularly the range of common dangers the churches face – is much more plausible. Gorman, page 97.
Gorman asks the question “What are we reading?” Another way to ask this is “what might have been going on in the respective communities of the seven churches that caused John to be concerned about their spiritual state. He writes this: As Christian individuals….interacted with family members…and public officials who did not share their conviction that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ these believers were faced with hard questions and decisions. Should they continue to participate in social activities that have a pagan religious character?….Should we or can we go to pagan temples to do our banking or purchase meat? Should we acknowledge the sovereignty of the emperor when as to do so at a public event?”[A relative of mine would have called himself a Christian, going to church every Sunday, but showing no devotion to it in his daily conversations. He was also a Mason, an organization with a pseudo-Christian flavor to it. But I think John questions such allegiances.]
When heard faithfully today, the main point of Revelation 2-3 is to listen for the spirit of God identifying our own church’s peculiar unholy spirit and offering us the presence and grace of Christ to transform us into a more faithful people of God.
The Letters to the Seven Churches:
Every letter starts with a description of the Christ, e.g., “These are the words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire…” 2:18.
Every letter corresponds to a shape or template. Each has 3 parts to it:
- It has the names of the addressees and the sender.
- It has statements about the status of the addressees and corresponding messages to them.
- It has a command and a promise based on the above.
Wilcock mentions the fact that Revelation contains echoes or remembrances of similar ideas in other places in the New Testament. For example, the portrayal of Christ in similar terms in the transfiguration scene in Mark 9:2.
Revelation also has echoes of the Old Testament as in Amos 1:3,6,9.
Wilcock says that repetition is a way of expressing emphasis or intensifying ideas found in other places in the Old and New Testaments.
Outline of the Opening Scene.
- The church is centered on Christ. Note how Christ is described and what this might say, optimistically, about the future of the beleaguered church which he addressed.
- Letter to Ephesus – Revelation 2:1-7. John was the bishop of the church at Ephesus (according to tradition) for many years. Ephesus may have been the “mother church” of that region.
Q1: What is John’s one criticism of the Ephesian church?
- Letter to Smyrna – 2:8-11. A persecution in Smyrna was arising from Jews who were Jewish in ethnicity only. Certainly not in faith. The message is that the Christians not be fearful but rather faithful.
- Letter to Pergamum – 2:12-17. If Ephesus was the NYC of Asia, Pergamum was its Washington, D.C. A temple to the Emperor was there and may have been Paul’s reference when he spoke of the throne of Satan. Briefly, Satan is working here through the pressures of a non-Christian society.
- Letter to Thyatira – 2:18-29. The sin of Thyatira was immorality and compromise. Satan was at work here through internal pressure and poison, represented through the evil character of Jezebel. See 1Kings 16:13.
- Letter to Sardis – 3:1-6. Sardin was not what the world would call a “dead” church. She would have been regarded as flourishing. But in Christ’s eyes, she was not “complete.” If Sardis remembers, repents, and acts, so will God towards her.
- Philadelphia was the only church in which Jesus finds no fault. “I know your works,” he says to them. He says this about them.
a. You have little power.
b. You have kept my word, and you have not denied my name.
c. You have kept my word of endurance.
d. Like Smyrna they have to face the synagogue of Satan.
e. Jesus said that he had set before them an open door, presumably so that the righteous and those like the church of Smyrna could enter in. Also, “because they have kept my word of patient endurance.”
f. Jesus said that he would keep you, Smyrna, from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.”
g. This undeserved favor is at the root of all. In a sense, Christ keeps (or preserves) his people because they keep his word.
h. He calls them to perseverance and promise to make them a pillar in the temple.
- Letter to Laodicea – 3:14-22. He tells them that he “knows their works” as well.
a. He describes them poor, blind, and naked, in spite of the fact that they live in a town famous for its banks, its eye ointment, and its textiles. Laodicea claimed to have everything but instead, had nothing.
b. Like its lime-laden water, tepid and sickly, is like the tepid Christians, making Christ sick.
c. Yet, there is hope for Laodicea. But gold from Christ, white robes, and salve for their eyes.
- John concludes the 7 letters with this. “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
Q2: Write a letter that you think Jesus would write to us. Make sure you include yourself in the letter.