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The 7 Churches of Revelation

During our Wednesday night Bible study, we have begun studying the book of Revelation. We have been going through Revelation 2 and 3 these past several months looking at the seven churches and the message that Jesus has for each of these churches. I thought that I would give you a brief overview of these messages and then conclude this blog post by asking two very important questions.

The first message is to the church in Ephesus. This city was an important city for Asia Minor, a major port city. Jesus comes to this group of believers and tells them that He knows all about them. How they cannot bear those who do evil and how they test to make sure that what is being taught to them is in accordance with the Gospel of Jesus. But Jesus goes on and tells them that they have a problem: they lost their first love. In other words, they forgot why they are to be doing these things, which is their love for God. Jesus calls them to repent, to remember the joy they had when they first heard the Gospel and to do what they were first doing when they received the Gospel of Jesus. Have we become like the church in Ephesus where we are just going through the motions in our relationship with God? Are we doing all the right things, reading our Bibles, praying, gathering with other believers, but have forgotten why we should be doing these things? Has our love for God grown cold?

The second message is to the church in Smyrna. This city had a large Jewish population and Jesus calls their synagogue a synagogue of Satan because they were persecuting Jesus’ followers. Jesus’ message to the believers in Smyrna is not bad. He does not call these believers to repent, but instead explains to them that their persecution is going to increase for a short time (“10 days” in Revelation 2:10 is to be taken figuratively, not literally). Jesus tells them to be faithful until death. Are we like the believers in Smyrna facing persecution or being harassed because of the Gospel of Jesus? If so, then may we be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus until death.

The third message is to the church in Pergamum. This city was a pagan city and, in this city, they had temples for Roman gods, including Ceasar himself. This is why Jesus says that Satan’s throne is in this city (Revelation 2:13). The problem that Jesus points out to this group of believers is that people are following the teachings of Balaam. Now Balaam is known for his talking donkey and how he blesses the nation of Israel instead of cursing them, which Balak king of Moab hired him to do (Numbers 22-25). But we are also told that it was Balaam who told Balak how to get Israel to sin against the Lord (Numbers 31:15-20). It is this event that Jesus has in mind as He is talking to the believers in Pergamum. There are believers in that city who are compromising the Gospel of Jesus. They are allowing their pagan culture to influence their understanding of the Gospel of Jesus and they are living in sin. Jesus commands them to repent and to hold onto the Gospel of Jesus alone. Do not add anything to the Gospel of Jesus to try and fit in with their pagan culture. Are we becoming like these believers in Pergamum who have allowed our culture to influence our understanding of the Gospel of Jesus? Has our culture actually led us away from the Gospel of Jesus and into sin?

The fourth message is to the church in Thyatira. This group of believers were dealing with a woman who was acting like Jezebel. Jezebel was the infamous wife of King Ahab, one of the most, if not the most wicked king in the history of the Kingdom of Israel. But we find out in 1 Kings 21:25 that Jezebel was the one who was behind King Ahab’s wickedness. Jesus tells these believers that there is a lady in their midst who is leading believers away from the truth of the Gospel of Jesus. Jesus warns that He will bring judgement upon those who are following her false teachings. For the rest of the believers, who have not followed this false teacher, Jesus tells them to keep hanging on to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus. Are we becoming like the believers in Thyatira who are allowing false teachers to lead us away from the truth of the Gospel of Jesus? Are we listening to and following pastors and other teachers in the church that are teaching things that just “tickling our ears” (2 Timothy 4:3)? Woe to those Christians who follow false teachers.

The fifth message is to the church in Sardis. The city of Sardis looked good and was thought to be indestructible. But the city was conquered, not just once, but twice because of the lack of guards posted. Jesus uses this to tell the believers in Sardis that they are just like their city; they look good on the outside, but inward they are asleep. Jesus tells them to “wake up!” To repent and to remember when they first heard the Gospel of Jesus. Have we become like the church in Sardis; fallen asleep spiritually? Have we become lackadaisical in our walks with God allowing the enemy of our soul (Satan) to devour us (1 Peter 5:8-10)?

The sixth message is to the church in Philadelphia. This is not Philadelphia, PA but the first century city of Philadelphia in Asia Minor. Within this message, Jesus never condemns them or calls them out because of a problem they are facing within the church. Instead, Jesus encourages them. There were only a few believers in Philadelphia, but they were being faithful to the Gospel of Jesus; they were not denying Jesus’ name even though they were being persecuted. Jesus encourages them to keep following the Gospel of Jesus and as they do, Jesus will allow them to preserve to the end. Are we like the church in Philadelphia, remaining faithful to the Gospel of Jesus? Another interesting thing about the church in Philadelphia is that Jesus never chews them out for being small, which is the total opposite of our thinking in the American church. So many times, we look at these churches that have 200 – 20,000 people coming to their services every week and we think, “wow, God is really blessing them. They must be a healthy church.” Not necessary. Philadelphia was few in numbers but was faithful in following the Gospel of Jesus. This message reminds us that God doesn’t care about the size of the church, but He does care about the faithfulness of a church.

Finally, the seventh message is to the church in Laodicea. The city of Laodicea had water problems. They had to pipe water from the surrounding cities and by the time the water arrived in Laodicea it was not suitable to drink because of the temperature and mineral content. The water would literally make you sick without filtering it. Jesus uses this context to call out the believers in Laodicea. The believers had become self-sufficient and complacent in their relationship with God. They actually thought that they did not need God because they could follow the Gospel of Jesus on their own. Jesus goes on to tell them that they are actually naked, blind, and poor because they are not living for eternity; instead, they are living for this material world. Jesus tells them to buy gold from Him (to store up treasures in Heaven), clothes that are white (follow the Gospel of Jesus), and eye slave so that your spiritual blindness may be healed. Jesus then tells them to repent and be zealous for the Gospel of Jesus. Are we like the believers in Laodicea in that we have become so dependent upon our programs, methods, wealth, and intellect that we live like we have no need for God? Do we equate material blessings with God’s blessings? God never promises us that we will have bountiful material blessings as we follow Him, but Jesus constantly told His disciples to store up treasures in Heaven.

At the end of each message, Jesus says “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13, 22). These messages are not just for the first century believers living in these cities. These messages are for us as well. The two questions that we need to ask are first, “what message would Jesus say to you personally?” When you think about your personal walk with God, what message is for you. Secondly, these messages are given to groups of believers. My second question is, “what message would Jesus give to your church?”  As a pastor, I give you permission to prayerfully evaluate your church. How is your church doing? Which message applies to your church? After you prayerfully evaluate your church and if you conclude that your church is one of the five churches that Jesus calls out, then follow Jesus’ solution. The first step is always to repent. Repentance means to admit you are heading in the wrong direction and to make a 180 degree turn to follow the right direction. A change needs to take place. May we have ears to hear so that we are following the Gospel of Jesus faithfully in our lives.

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