In the beginning of the book of Revelation the risen Jesus takes the time to address seven different churches. He gives each one clarity on their condition and invites each to press forward in pleasing God. Each location was in an area called Asia Minor, so their cultural backgrounds we in-common but each city was unique. Within each city was a group of believers (church) who were in various places in their spiritual walk.
Each church has characteristics which can provide a backdrop for believers in any generation as we move toward Jesus’ goal for us:
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’” – Matthew 25:23
From Jesus’ words to the believers in Ephesus we understand that one can work hard, do good, and stick with it – and still take our eye off of the King and His Kingdom. This is described as leaving our first love. It is the adversary’s goal of all spiritual distraction. We can become so focused on what we do we forget who we are. Church is not merely a place we go, it is who we are. Jesus is not a religion, He is a relationship. Keeping this before us can help us stay in love with Jesus, and reject the false-love of other things. Sadly this infects many in the church in history – and even today. Is this not the temptation of even the most loyal Jesus followers?
The believers in Smyrna were tested through troubles, poverty, criticism and from the presence of the doctrines of demons among His people. Suffering brings fear and with it a recalibration and even a loss of our confidence. These followers will rely upon our faith, even to the ultimate sacrifice. Not all of Jesus’ friends live in the relative safety and even opulence many experience. Troubles, poverty, criticism, and the teachings of demons arise in every corner of the world. How is are current fears being managed by His followers in our present climate?
There are three things the believers in Pergamum were battling. Persecution, stumbling blocks, and false teaching. The teaching of Balaam was centered on tripping up God’s people with half-truths and untruths. The Nicolaitans represent all who choose to blend God’s Word with man-words or the teachings of demons. This hybrid-mixing has also been called syncretism. It clearly and painfully describes the world of the adversary and is why he is mentioned twice in this passage. He presents himself as an angel of light. This attack is plainly seen among many in the church today. Can you discern it? How?
Jezebel is prominent in and around the church in Thyatira. Her seduction is found in how she redefines and tempts the church to immorality of mind, action, and heart. Even though filled with love, faith, service, and perseverance – she is warned of strict judgment for tolerating and even embracing the deep things of satan. Could this be insidious and unbridled hubris? Humility plays a deep part in the Kingdom. How has this humbling impacted you? In what ways do you and your friends bow before the pure authority of Jesus Christ our Lord?
Sardis represents the part of the church that is outwardly alive yet inwardly dead. She has fallen asleep in her pursuit of the King and His Kingdom, and has made her purified garments black with impurity. She rejects Jesus’ purifying power by justifying a lack of completion of her purpose, perhaps through laziness or distraction. In what ways do you put a good face on it, while at the same time covering up your lack of devotion to Jesus and His will? Wake up! The cost of inaction is much too great. We must turn away from these things and turn our faces to God.
In Philadelphia we find believers who have a “smaller power.” We have done what is right, even taking on the active work of the adversary by our choices to live godly. Yet we have not flourished. Is this through ignorance? Laziness? Lowered expectations of our national and world culture? We can still prepare for what is ahead. What do you know of the power of God? How do you experience it? What are the evidences of His power in the strength or your life? Do you can about having full power rather than that which is smaller?
The Laodicean Christ-followers were playing it safe. They were also spiritually obtuse. How many of us believe that suffering is a result of God paying us back for something? Being hot or cold is good – our being lukewarm makes Jesus ill. And yet how easy is it to insulate ourselves from the reality of who we are, both individually and as a community. It also appears that the Laodiceans were lying to themselves about their spiritual condition. Not only were they putting on airs – they were buying in themselves. Hence the exhortation to accept the discipline of God and press into repentance. Is there anything more dangerous than to be self-righteous?
Each of these seven churches provide guidance to evaluate, turn around, and press forward. It is the kindest offer Jesus can make to His imperfect Bride, as we live in our turbulent world!
When we believe in Jesus we become a part of His church, and are being prepared to become His bride at the end of the age. We are His special treasure, being washed clean, and, even now, are being built up into a spiritual house:
1 Peter 2:4-5
“And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Whether we were born in the first or the 21st century, we have been chosen by God to inherit a rich identity and exciting future.
Maranatha! Come quickly Lord Jesus. We will be ready.
Dave and Burnadette