Letters to the Churches of Revelation
The book of Revelation, the last book in our Bible, was written by the beloved disciple, John when he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos. The date is approximately 95 A.D. John is given many apocalyptic visions and is told to write them down for all the followers of Christ to have. He is promised that each Christian who carefully reads this Revelation would be blessed.
While John is worshipping, his eyes are opened, and he sees the glorified risen Jesus standing there in front of him! John falls down as if dead, but Christ raises him up and tells him not to be afraid. The glorified Christ has messages for John to give to His Church. John faithfully writes down everything that Jesus tells him and everything he sees in the many visions he is given concerning the end times. This is the book of Revelation.
Jesus in all His glory is standing among seven candlesticks, with seven stars in His hand, when He appears to John. He has a golden sash around His chest and out of His mouth comes a sharp double-edged sword. Bible scholars say that the golden sash refers to the fact that Jesus is our high priest. He constantly prays for us. And scholars also explain that the double-edged sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth symbolizes His divine judgment. (see Isaiah 49:2 and Hebrews 4:12)
Jesus tells John that the seven stars in His hand are the seven angels of each of the seven churches and the candlesticks are the seven churches in Asia. It is comforting that Jesus is right there with His followers, standing there among the candlesticks -His churches. He is also with us – His Church, today and always. Jesus asks John to write down a message from Him to each of the seven churches.
The first church, Ephesus was given this message from Christ: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men. That you have tested those who claim to be apostles, but are not, and you have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for My Name and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:1-7)
Ephesus was the most important Greek city in Asia Minor. Today tourists can walk through the ruins of ancient Ephesus, which are on the coast of modern Turkey. The need to test for correct doctrine was widely recognized in the early church of Ephesus. Jesus is pleased with the church in Ephesus for protecting the Christian faith from those who would water it down or bring heresies into the church. The Christian faith needs constant protection, for there are always those who would try to destroy it. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. (Believers are the “sheep” and Christ is the “Shepherd”.) (but the “wolves” pretending to be sheep are fake Christians) (Matthew 7:15)
Jesus praises the church of Ephesus for hating the practices of the Nicolaitans, which He says He also hates. Bible scholars say that the Nicolaitans practiced idolatry and immorality. The church of Ephesus tried to keep immorality out of their church and Jesus commended them. Our church today needs to heed His warnings to the church in Ephesus to keep sexual immorality out. The church forgives the repentant one who has been sexually immoral, but the church should never say that immorality is acceptable! Or go along with it!
But then Jesus calls the church in Ephesus to go back to their first love. To remember the height from which they have fallen. Evidently this church had been deeply in love with God and had sincerely loved one another. But their love has cooled. Jesus misses their fervent love and calls them back to a close love relationship with Him. Would Jesus call us to love Him more? To love each other with a greater love? Jesus calls the church in Ephesus and all the churches to overcome. To love Him all the way. To fight the good fight. He ever lives to pray for us and help us. Jesus promises us life everlasting at the end of the fight.
Jesus gives a second message to the church in Smyrna. This is His message. “I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.” (Revelation 2:8-11)
Smyrna was a proud and beautiful Asian city (modern Izmir, Turkey) closely aligned with Rome and eager to meet Rome’s demands for emperor worship. Polycarp was the bishop of the church in Smyrna and he was a famous early martyr for the Christian faith. Polycarp was eighty-six years old when he was burned at the stake because he refused to denounce Christ.
Jesus comforts and encourages His persecuted church in Smyrna. He reminds them that He is with them through their persecution and He knows what they are going through. He feels their pain and sees their poverty. Yet He tells them that they are rich! Rich in faith and rich in the Spirit! Many more Christians from the church in Smyrna were martyred because they refused to bow to Caesar as their god. Christ tells them that Satan is behind their persecution. Scripture tells us that Satan is the accuser of the followers of Christ. (Revelation 12:9-11 and 1 Timothy 4:13) And Jesus tells the church in Smyrna that their persecution will be over after a little while (ten days). That He will be with them. And soon they will receive the crown of life.
The churches of Ephesus and Smyrna were actual churches when the glorified Christ gave these messages to them. These messages were given to these specific churches in Asia minor in 95 A.D. But some take that the seven letters to the seven churches can also be a preview of church history in its downward course over these last two thousand years to the present church today. Others interpret the seven churches as seven various kinds of Christian congregations that have existed from John’s day to the present time.
Jesus Christ, the first and the last, the one who has the keys of hell and of death and the One who has sovereign dominion in and over the invisible world and gives us eternal life, has a message for all the Christian churches in these seven letters in Revelation. One of His messages is that the ministers of Christ are under His special care and protection. All the good that they do is done by His Hand with them. Although Christ is in heaven, He walks in the midst of His churches on earth. He is with us always and He calls us to love Him with our whole hearts and to love one another