Today we begin the last book of the Bible, Revelation. The first three chapters contain “letters to the churches,” Jesus’ own commendations and warnings to the believers of John’s day. We would do well to pay attention to Jesus’ words; they are quite relevant to the state of the Church in 2020!
People often avoid the study of Revelation because it is a difficult book to understand and there are so many different opinions about how it should be interpreted. They don’t see value in it since we “can’t know for sure.” I think that is a poor response. This is the “Revelation of Jesus Christ.” Jesus Himself appeared to John and gave him these wonderful insights, visions, and prophecies. John begins the book with this promise: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, for the time is near.” (1:3) I think that is a pretty good recommendation for the value of studying end-times prophecy!
The seven churches (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea) are interpreted both as literal churches of the day as well as seen as descriptive of “church ages” throughout history, i.e., what was going on in Christianity at any given time. I find wisdom for us in all 7 messages. Without listing specifics, we can summarize Jesus’ words into three categories: commendation, correction, and promises.
Local believers are commended for holding fast to God’s word, preaching the gospel, faithfulness, and perseverance in suffering and persecution, good deeds, and obedience to God’s commands. On the other hand, Jesus has strong words of correction for those IN THE CHURCH who have lost their passion and love for God, acceptance of and teaching falsely themselves, sexual immorality, compromise with the world (our modern-day “eating food sacrificed to idols”), presenting a reputation of being spiritually alive, but essentially dead (religion without the Spirit of God), and being so lukewarm that God wants to spit them out (one foot in the church, one in the world so that no one can distinguish what they believe).
To each church, God promises judgment for their sins and reward for their faithfulness. He will not leave His church to continue in that which dishonors His name but will call them to account and discipline them for their deeds. For those faithful believers who persevere, there are promises of eating from the tree of life, a victor’s crown, a new name, authority over the nations, to walk with Christ dressed in white and be acknowledged by Him before the Father and the angels, to be made a pillar in the heavenly temple and be known by God’s name, and the right to sit with Jesus on His throne. WOW.
Compromise, apathy, and worldiness in our Christian lives lead to discipline for the disobedient child and judgment for the Christian imposter. Faithfulness leads to glorious rewards we can only imagine. All are invited. What will be the outcome for you?
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (3:19-20)