JESUS AND HIS CHURCH – [4] Revelation 2 and 3 – What Jesus knows

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

Jesus tells the seven churches what he knows about them and their situation, encourages them to persevere, and gives them urgent instructions about changing anything that is out of order in their life and witness. As we study his statements and instructions we need to remember that this same Jesus also knows our churches. Although the specific details may be different, yet the general meaning continues: the powerful Jesus we have just looked at is saying the same things to his churches today.

It is important to keep in mind that the letters are addressed to ‘churches’ via their leaders. The future of each local church is dependant on that church heeding Christ’s warnings. These warnings do not threaten the eternal security of genuine individual believers, but are about the continuance or otherwise of a local church as a ‘lampstand’.  Individual believers, however, are the focus of the promises given at the end of each letter. These promises are addressed to ‘he who overcomes’. Even in a church that eventually disappears or becomes ineffectual as a church, the genuine individual believers in that church inherit all that God has promised to those who believe in his Son.

A. THE CHURCH IN EPHESUS - 2:1-7

A.1 About the church in Ephesus
Acts 18:18-20 reports a brief time Paul spent in Ephesus, during which he reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue. Acts 19:1-20:1 tells of an extended visit where Paul [1] enlightened a number of disciples who were followers of John the Baptist, [2] spoke boldly in the synagogue for three months until some of the Jews became obstinate, and [3] had daily discussions in the lecture hall of Tyrannus for two years, so that everyone heard the word of the Lord. Many believed in Christ and publicly repudiated their former beliefs by burning everything related to them. Just as Paul was about to leave the area a great riot was stirred up by silversmiths who were losing business because the worship of the goddess Diana had declined as a result of many conversions to Christ. In Acts 20:17-38 we read that Paul met the Ephesian elders at Miletus, and encouraged them to look after God’s flock. He warned them to be on guard because false teachers would come into the church and distort the truth, drawing disciples away with them.
In his letters to Timothy, who had oversight of the church at Ephesus, we find that these concerns and warnings were justified:

There were false teachers in the church who were side-tracking people into ‘myths and endless genealogies’, and who ‘promoted controversies’. They also ‘wandered away from’ the truth and ‘turned to meaningless talk’. Paul says ‘they don’t know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm’.

It is obvious from what Paul says that these false teachers were misapplying the law [1Timothy 1:3-10].

Some people had rejected faith and conscience and had ‘shipwrecked their faith’ [1Timothy 1:19-20].

There was false teaching that did not agree with the sound instruction of the Lord. There were teachers who had ‘an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.’ Some people were so eager for money that they had ‘wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs’ [1Timothy 6:3-11].

False teaching that was spreading like gangrene and people were engaging in foolish and stupid arguments. Paul encouraged Timothy to do his best to study the Scripture so that he could handle it rightly [2Timothy 2:14-26].

A.2 Jesus’ approval

Read verses 2,3 and 6. What are the good points about this church?

 


Jesus firstly commends the church in Ephesus. They had obviously obeyed Paul’s warnings and Timothy’s instructions, and have recognized and stood strongly against false teaching:

[1] He knows their deeds, their hard work and their perseverance – 2:2. We are not told exactly what their deeds and hard work are, but it is possible they have some relationship to hardships caused by their faith [verse 3].

[2] He knows that they cannot tolerate wicked men, and that they have tested false apostles [2:2]. The Ephesian church has sought to maintain the integrity of the Gospel by testing and proving false teachers. This is further affirmed by Jesus in verse 6 – ‘You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate’. [Not much is known about this group, its teaching and its practices. It is thought that it encouraged Christians to participate in some aspects of festivals that honoured idols – see section C.2 below.]

[3] He knows that they have persevered and have endured hardships for his name, and have not grown weary – 2:3.

A.3 Jesus’ warning
Although the church in Ephesus had stood strong and was surviving the on-going struggle against false teaching and the current persecution, they had ‘forsaken their first love’. They have not forsaken Christ; they have not forsaken his truth; but they have forsaken [the verb is in the Aorist Tense … so this is not a slow, gradual forsaking] their initial enthusiastic overwhelming love for Jesus [see verse 5 – the ‘height from which you have fallen’].
Jesus does not tell them to stop their strong stand against false teaching. That, as he has told them, is commendable. He himself also hates such practices [2:6]. But this forsaking of their ‘first love’, this leaving aside of the joy and awe and wonder generated by Christ and his amazing grace, this replacing love with formality and duty, has serious down-the-track potential. It could end up with the church being all about correct doctrine and correct practice and not at all about knowing Jesus and loving Jesus.

So Jesus, out of his deep love and concern, gives them three commands [verse 5]:

[1] ‘Remember [Present Tense – keep on remembering] the height from which you have fallen!’ Recall the sheer love that you had at first, remember that it was this love, not formality and duty, that motivated and directed you back then. Note that ‘you have fallen’ is in the Perfect Tense – they had fallen into this condition at some time in the past, and they were still in this condition. It wasn’t a brief, temporary hiccough, it was their state of being.

[2] ‘Repent ...’ [Aorist Tense – a command requiring a decisive action]. Jesus is commanding a deliberate and decisive change of mind – away from their present condition of diminished love and back to their original love for him.

[3] ‘… and do [also Aorist Tense] the things you did at first’ – decisively, deliberately begin again, re-commit, to do what you used to do. Literally – ‘the first works’ – ‘the original works’. We are not told what these ‘works’ are, but it is obvious from the context that they flowed out of the Ephesian church’s exuberant love for Jesus.

The need for this repentance and renewed actions – a return to their original love for Jesus – was urgent. Their role as a ‘lampstand’ would end if they did not repent [2:5].

 

B. THE CHURCH IN SMYRNA – 2:8-11

These verses contain the only information the Bible reports about the church in Smyrna. From Church History we know that persecution was present in 155AD when Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John, was burned at the stake for refusing to acknowledge Caesar as God.

B.1 What Jesus knew about the church
Jesus summarises the suffering of this church with the two words ‘afflictions’ and ‘poverty’. He refers to the ‘slander’ they have already faced and the imprisonment and persecution they will yet suffer.

Answer these questions:
[1] Although Jesus knows their afflictions and poverty, how does he describe them?

[2] Suggest why he does this?

[3] Who was slandering the church?

[4] Suggest why Jesus calls these slanderers ‘a synagogue of Satan’.

[5] What is the devil’s purpose in putting some of the church members in prison?

[6] How does Jesus encourage the church to be faithful even when facing the possibility of death by execution?

 

Smyrna is one of the two churches that are not rebuked by Jesus. The ‘afflictions and poverty’ they were experiencing were the direct result of their faithfulness to Jesus Christ. As in several countries today, confession of the name of Christ, with its break from the cultural and religious norm, meant social exclusion and unemployment. In addition to this, the opposition they had been facing and would face included slander, persecution, imprisonment and even death. Jesus’ message to this church includes the following words of encouragement:

[1] As with each of the churches, Jesus’ first words are ‘I know …’ Jesus is walking in the midst of the lampstands, Jesus holds the ‘stars’ of the churches in his hand: he knows what is going on, he knows who their opponents are, he knows how the church is coping, and he knows what else they will suffer.

[2] Jesus makes it clear that those who are slandering them are not what they appear and claim to be. [The word translated ‘slander’ is the same word elsewhere translated ‘blasphemy’ – blasphemos. It means ‘vilification’, either of God or of man.] ‘They say they are Jews and are not …’ They were ‘Jews’ by birth, but not Jews in heart. Instead of allegiance to God their allegiance was to Satan. Like the Jews who slandered Jesus, so these Jews slander his followers. And they receive from Jesus here in this letter the same terrible description of their real identity and loyalty that he spoke to them face to face [see John 8:37-47]. These Christians in Smyrna have no need to feel second-rate because of the slander of these godless Jews who do not even know God.

[3] To this church that was suffering acutely, he says ‘Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer …’ As he said to John in 1:17,18, so he says to the church in Smyrna: ‘Do not be afraid…(I am) the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.’ [See verse 8.]

[4] He explains that the cause of their coming imprisonment is ‘the devil’. Although it is humans who actually imprison them, the devil and his intention ‘to test’ them is behind it. Just as he did with Job [see Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7], just as he did with Jesus [Matthew 4:1-11], just as he did with Simon Peter [Luke 22:31], so here in Smyrna: the devil is intent on disproving the integrity of the faith of believers. But also just as with Job, God sets a limit to what the devil can do. Here, in Smyrna, it is ‘ten days’ [which may be a literal ten days, or maybe symbolic for ‘until it is complete’].

[5] To this church Jesus gives an extra promise, in addition to the ‘formula’ promise at the end of the letter. In the context of persecution that could end in their death, he says ‘be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life’. It is interesting that it is to this church, facing possible death because of their faith, Jesus introduced himself as ‘the First and the Last, who died and came to life again’ [verse 8]. Physical death, viewed from the perspective of eternity and of the death and resurrection of Jesus, is somehow irrelevant. It is not nice. It should not be here. But it is not the last word. Jesus has robbed it of its power and of its ultimate fear. Jesus reminds them that if they die, if they are killed because of their faith … Jesus, the one who lives, will give them ‘the crown of life’. This is his promise to all who believe in him.

 

C. THE CHURCH IN PERGAMUM – 2:12-17

As with Smyrna, the Bible gives us no other information about this church. From secular records we learn:

That Pergamos [most common spelling] was a centre of emperor worship.

That Pergamos was a worship centre for Zeus [the ‘supreme’ god of Greek mythology] and Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom (and Pergamos had a massive library), war, civilization (and many other things). The worship of Asklepios [Aesculapius] the serpent god of healing was very prominent.

The Pergamos was a centre of healing - note the connection with Asklepios. [The snake symbol used by some medical practitioners has its origin here.]

That Pergamos was a thriving centre of government, trade and business.

C.1 What Jesus knows

Identify the three things Jesus says in affirmation of this church:

In Jesus’ letter to the church in Smyrna he referred to some Jews there as ‘the synagogue of Satan’. Here in this letter to the church in Pergamos he states two things about this city: Satan’s throne is there and Satan lives there. In other words this city, except for this little church, is totally under Satan’s reign, under his dominion. Wherever its people live, Satan lives, for they are in bondage to him. Jesus knows this, and he knows how difficult it is for Christians in such a situation.

Jesus commends this church on two counts:

[1] they remain true to his name despite living in Satan’s territory.
[2] they did not renounce their faith in him, even when Antipas, a faithful witness of Christ, was put to death in their city.

Such steadfastness in such circumstances indicates the integrity of their faith. Only those who really know Jesus and really believe in him would continue to acknowledge him under such circumstances.

C.2 Jesus’ rebuke and warning
Jesus rebuked this church because some people associated with the church [‘you have people there’] were actively holding the beliefs and following the practices of false teaching. These people held ‘to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality’. [Read Numbers 25:1-3; 31:15,16]. Just as some of the Israelites fell into idolatrous and immoral practices under the influence of Balaam at Baal-Peor, so some in the church at Pergamos have been influenced by the teaching of the Nicolaitans, and have eaten food offered to idols and committed sexual immorality. The latter was probably in the context of the pagan idol feasts.

The question of eating food offered to idols was evidently a continuing issue.

The Jerusalem Council forbade it: ‘… to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality’ [Acts 15:20].

Paul had addressed the issue of eating food offered to idols in 1Corinthians 8 and 10. When we read 1Corinthians 8 it seems that Paul is saying that it is okay to eat meat sacrificed to idols as long as this does not adversely impact other Christians whose consciences are ‘weaker’. Paul does however state ‘if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again …’ [verse 13], and that seems to be the end of it. However, from 9:1 right through to 10:13 Paul addresses the issue of a Christian’s perceived ‘right’ to exercise his freedom, and comes down solidly on the side of having nothing at all to do with idols. His conclusion is stated in 10:14: ‘Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry’ and goes on to point out the utter incongruity and inappropriateness of partaking of both the Lord’s Supper and sacrifices made to idols, which are really sacrifices made to demons [10:14-32].

This issue features in three of the letters to the Seven Churches: Ephesus [2:6 – the Nicolaitans]; Pergamum [2:14,15 – Balaam and the Nicolaitans]; Thyatira [2:20 – Jezebel]. In these cities, as in most places in that culture, participating in feasts in honour of idols was an important social and cultural gathering. To remove oneself not only severed one’s relationships with friends and neighbours, but also put one’s employment or business in jeopardy as many of the workers’ guilds were connected in some way with the idol feasts. In addition participation in idol feasts commonly involved sexual practices. All of this put Christians in a hard place. To be faithful to Christ they had to stay away from idolatry. To survive culturally and financially participation in the feasts was basically necessary. Not to do so was to invite hardship and low level persecution.

It is not the whole church in Pergamum that is involved in this, but Jesus rebukes the whole church, via its leader, for its tolerance of these people. As far as Jesus is concerned the church should have dealt with this issue – either by bringing these people to repentance, or by removing them from the church. The church is commanded to repent of their inaction. If the church does not repent, Jesus will quickly [‘soon’] come to the church [‘to you’] and will fight against [literally ‘make war against’] them, that is, the people participating in the idol feasts and committing sexual immorality.  What he fights with, his weapon, will be ‘the sword of my mouth’.

Note that to this church he introduced himself as ‘him who has the sharp, double-edged sword’. This is the word of God, which, according to Hebrews 4:12-13, judges the thoughts and intents of the heart, more penetratingly than the sharpest two-edged sword. It is this word of Christ that will destroy his enemies on the last day, as we will see later. Here, unless they repent and rid the church of this corruption, Christ will come and fight against those individuals involved with this ‘sword of his mouth’.

 

D. THE CHURCH IN THYATIRA – 2:18-28

There is one small bit of information about Thyatira elsewhere in the Bible– In Acts 16:14 we learn of Lydia, a resident of Philippi in Macedonia, who is described as coming from Thyatira. From secular records we learn that Thyatira was a trading city, with many trade-guilds, all of which were connected with ‘gods’ specific to each trade or craft. This created the same difficulties for Christians as those described above.

D.1 What Jesus knows
Jesus commends the church for their deeds, love, faith, service and perseverance. He also knows that they ‘are doing more than you did at first’. There is here both a similarity and a contrast to the church in Ephesus. Note in particular the contrast: ‘love’ is mentioned in the list, and, whereas the Ephesians had ‘lost their first love’, the church in Thyatira has improved rather than regressed.

Later in this letter [verse 24] Jesus also commends ‘the rest’ [that is those not involved in his rebuke] for two additional things: [1] they do not ‘hold to her teaching’, and [2] they ‘have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets’. He commands them to hold on to what they have until he comes.

D.2 Jesus’ rebuke and warning
Jesus’ rebuke given to Thyatira is possibly the longest of the seven.

From 2:20-24 list the things Jesus has against this church:

 

 

[1] ‘You tolerate …’ The church ‘tolerates’ a specific false teacher. Earlier Jesus commended Ephesus because they could not tolerate wicked men, had tested false apostles [2:2] and hated the practices of the Nicolaitans [2:6]. He rebuked Pergamum because they had followers of the Nicolaitans among them [2:14-16]. Now he rebukes the church in Thyatira because they ‘tolerate that woman Jezebel’.

Our culture today tells us that we must be ‘tolerant’. Jesus here tells us that we must not. Even in our churches we are criticized when we point out ‘false teaching’; we are told ‘you mustn’t judge’. But here is Jesus, the one who said ‘Judge not’ [Matthew 7:1] rebuking the church in Thyatira because it did not stand in judgment against this false ‘prophetess’. [If we read Matthew 7:6-27 we will learn that Jesus repeatedly commands us to exercise acute discernment in respect to truth and error.]

[2] ‘… that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess’. Notice she ‘calls herself’ – she has set herself up as a prophetess.  But she is not a prophetess – she is not one whom the Lord sent, nor is she one whom the Lord gifted. [Note: it is quite probable that ‘Jezebel’ is not her real name, but a name applied to her by Jesus because of the historic associations of that name with idolatry and seduction.]

Check these references about people who set themselves up as prophets, and claim that their word is the word of God, when it is not:
Jeremiah 23:16
Jeremiah 23:21,22
Jeremiah 23:25-27
Jeremiah 23:34-40
Jeremiah 28:15,16

It is an extremely serious thing to call yourself a prophet of the Lord, when you are not.

[3] ‘By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols’. Her teaching is seductive and deceptive. The Greek text reads ‘and she teaches and seduces …’. She deceives Christians [‘my servants’] into believing what she says is right, and so they believe what she says and do what she suggests. [Notice her similarity to Satan and his deceptions – they way he talked to and seduced Eve in the garden, and the way he tried to seduce Jesus to sin by quoting scripture. And she is right there, in the church, and tolerated by the church.] She somehow convinced them that it was a good thing to participate in idol feasts and to engage in the associated sexual practices.

[4] Jesus refers to ‘Satan’s so-called deep secrets’ [2:24]. It seems that this is part of ‘Jezebel’s’ teaching. Various Bible teachers suggest that Jezebel advocated that in order to defeat sin and Satan you had to know more about sin and Satan … and that by participating in the idol feasts one would get that knowledge. Whatever it was, Jezebel successfully misled some of Christ’s people in Thyatira. This involvement and merging with the darkness is in bold contrast to the identity of Christ’s church as a ‘lampstand’.

Check these references to the distinction from the world that should always characterize the church and individual believers:
Romans 12:2
Ephesians 5:8-12
Philippians 2:15
1Peter 2:9,12

Jesus states that he has already given ‘Jezebel’ ‘time to repent of her immorality’ but she is not willing to repent [2:21]. His punishment will therefore fall on her, and on those who have joined her in her unfaithfulness to Christ, unless they repent of her works [2:22,23]. The word ‘children’ [verse 23] is most likely a reference to her spiritual followers – those who have really embraced her teaching and followed her example.

In this context of punishment Jesus describes himself as ‘he who searches hearts and minds’ [2:23], which ties in with his self-description at the beginning of this letter – ‘whose eyes are like blazing fire’ [2:18]. Like his sharp double-edged sword, his eyes penetrate right into our hearts and minds. He knows where there is genuine faith; he knows where there is not. He is able to discern which of those who followed Jezebel are actually genuine believers and which, like her, are not. He knows those whose deeds [in this case participation in idolatrous and immoral activities] are the expression of their real heart and mind, and those whose deeds are the result of having been unknowingly and unwillingly deceived. Those who have genuine faith will repent of those ‘works’ [not ‘ways’ as in the NIV], and by that repentance demonstrate the integrity of their faith in Christ. Those who do not will suffer the punishment.

As an example of this: Judas’ action in betraying Jesus was an expression of his real heart and mind which had never actually been that of genuine faith. Peter’s action in denying Jesus was not an expression of his real heart and mind, which actually did believe in and was committed to Jesus. Jesus sees beyond the external action to the heart and mind and assesses the actions not on the basis of their appearance but on the basis of their source.

Some of Jezebel’s followers were genuine ‘servants’ of Jesus Christ [verse 20]. Others were not. Genuine repentance will demonstrate the existence of genuine faith.

 

E. THE CHURCH IN SARDIS – 3:1-6

Jesus says only one positive thing about this church: ‘you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes’ [3:4]. Only a few … despite the fact that there is no mention of persecution in this city, and no mention of false teaching. In the other cities already rebuked by Jesus those rebuked were the minority. Here those who are not rebuked are the minority – just a few names.

From verses 1 to 4 there are a number of references to what was wrong with this church:

They have a reputation of being alive, but they are dead.
They need to wake up.
There is something that remains, but it is about to die.
Their deeds are not complete in the sight of God.
They are not obeying what they have received and heard.
They have soiled their clothes.

It seems that nobody bothered this church. The Romans did not persecute it. The Jews did not oppose it. The idol worshippers did not ostracise its members. Satan did not deceive it. It was left in peace. Perhaps the reason for this apparent blessedness is to be found in those very things for which Jesus rebuked it: it had no life. It was dead and dying. It was asleep. As such it was not a threat to emperor worship, or to Judaism, or to idols, or to Satan. It was not doing the things that Christians should do. It was not obeying the truth it had been taught. It was not shining as a lampstand disturbing the darkness; indeed, for the most part, its clothes were soiled – it was indiscernible in the darkness.

Jesus introduced himself to this church as ‘him who holds the seven spirits of God’. This is a reference to the Holy Spirit – that same Spirit whom Jesus has given to his church. Yet in this church there appears to be very little evidence of the life-giving work of the Spirit. His ministry has been stifled by their spiritual sleepiness.

The commands of Jesus to this passive, impotent, lifeless church are: Wake up. Strengthen. Remember. Obey. Repent.

Suggest what each of these commands would involve for such a church.

 

 


F. THE CHURCH IN PHILADELPHIA – 3:7-13

For this church Jesus has nothing but praise and reassurance.

Make a list of the good things about this church:

 

 


Although their strength is small [3:8] they have remained faithful to Christ’s name and Christ’s word. This infers the presence of the pressure of persecution and/or false teaching, despite which this church remained true to Jesus. Verse 9 indicates that there was some opposition from the Jews.

By way of reassurance and encouragement Jesus says several things to this church:

[1] I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut [3:8]. In verse 7 Jesus had introduced himself as ‘him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open’. Now, to this church which has remained true to him, he affirms their absolutely certain entry into his Kingdom. No one, not even the Jews who were opposing them, can debar them or disqualify them. Jesus has opened the door of his Kingdom to them, no one can shut it in their face.

[2] He will make those Jews who oppose them and exclude them from God’s kingdom ‘come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you’ [3:9]. This is possibly a reference to the conversion of Jews to Christ.

[3] Because they have endured patiently [which infers they endured some form of hardship and/or persecution because of their faith in Christ] Jesus will ‘keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on earth’ [3:10]. There is no need for the members of this church to be tested. They have already demonstrated the genuineness of their faith.

[4] Jesus commands them to ‘hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown’.


G. THE CHURCH IN LAODICEA – 3:14-22

Laodicea was a city of millionaires. Its water supply came from hot springs and was lukewarm when it arrived in their homes.

The apostle Paul had some connections with the church in Laodicea and ‘struggled’ on their behalf to encourage and unite them [Colossians 2:1]. His first letter to Timothy was written from Laodicea. His letter to the Colossians was also to be read in Laodicea and the Colossians were to read a letter he had written to the Laodiceans [Colossians 4:16]. See also Colossians 4:13 and 14 for additional associations.

From this is it clear that Laodicea was at that time troubled by similar issues to those in Colosse: the false teaching present at the time Paul wrote included elements of Judaistic legalism which sought to bind Christians to Jewish rituals, and elements of a kind of embryonic Gnosticism which seriously diminished the person of Christ and salvation, and which also led to two contrasting lifestyle reactions – asceticism on the one hand or licentiousness on the other. If Paul’s teaching and instruction in the letter to the Colossians went unheeded in Laodicea it is not surprising that by the end of the first century the church had been reduced to the state described by Jesus. With a powerless Jesus and a powerless salvation what else would one expect!

Make a list of Jesus’ descriptions of this church.

 

 

 


Suggest what each of these descriptions means.

 

 

 

The big problem with this church is that they actually think they are okay. ‘You say “I am rich”’.  They do not know how ‘wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked’ they are. [Note the contrast to Smyrna – which was physically poor, but spiritually rich! 2:9] They think that their watered-down, wishy-washy Christianity is all there is. They think that the powerless Jesus and the powerless salvation they believe in is all there is. A lukewarm Jesus and a lukewarm salvation has resulted in a lukewarm church. Their perception of Jesus is nothing to get excited about. Their perception of the salvation he gives is nothing to get excited about. And so they are not excited. Like the ‘dead’ church of Sardis, they are so insipid that they are not a threat to Satan and his rule in this city. There is no opposition. There is no persecution. And there is no present deception – they have already been deceived.

They are so far from the truth that they do not really believe in the real Jesus even though they still come together as a ‘church’. His description of them betrays they lack of faith and their unsaved state [verse17b]. Jesus is about to disown them – ‘I am about to spit you out of my mouth’.

So he urgently counsels them:

[1] ‘… buy from me gold refined in the fire so you can become rich’ [3:18]. At present they do not have any spiritual ‘riches’ – they are not saved. But from Christ, and in Christ, they can receive ‘every spiritual blessing’ [Ephesians 1:3], the ‘unsearchable riches’ of the Gospel [Ephesians 3:8]; from Christ and in Christ they can receive ‘the incomparable riches of God’s grace’ [Ephesians 1:7; 2:6]; from Christ they can receive ‘the full riches of complete understanding’ [Colossians 2:2]. They are so ignorant of all of this that they do not even realize what they are missing. Somewhere in the history of this church the truth about Jesus Christ and his salvation has been lost. Now Christ urges them to ‘buy from me …’ because only from him can they acquire what they lack.

[2] ‘… and white clothes to wear so that you can cover your shameful nakedness’ [3:18]. Because they have lost the Gospel they stand before God as sinners, with all their sin exposed to his view and his judgment. They are not covered with his forgiveness. They are not clothed with the perfect righteousness of Christ.  They have not been washed by his blood. But those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are covered, clothed and washed [See Isaiah 61:10; Revelation 7:14]. So Jesus urges them to receive from him the perfect salvation that he died to achieve for them.

[3] ‘… and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see’ [3:18]. Those who do not know Christ are blind [Matthew 15:14; 23:16-26; 2Corinthians 4:4]. They do not and cannot see and know the truth. To do so they must come to him and receive from him ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God’ that can only be obtained from him [John 14:6-9; 2Corinthians 4:6; 1John 5:20].

[4] ‘Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent’ [3:19]. To this ‘lukewarm’ group of people meeting under his name, but without knowledge of him or his salvation, Jesus, ever loving and seeking to save the lost, speaks to them with loving rebuke and correction. They need to ‘be earnest’ – that is, to be the opposite of ‘lukewarm’ – to get some fire into them. [The words translated ‘hot’ in verse 15 and ‘earnest’ in verse 19 are both related to the Greek verb zeo – to boil.] They need to be stirred up enough to actively and positively align themselves with Jesus, that is, to repent.

[5] ‘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 him and he with me’ [3:20]. Here is the promise of salvation. Here is the promise of relationship. Here is the promise of acceptance. There is hope for this church. There is grace for this church. There is redemption for this church. There at their door, in the person of Jesus. But he has to be acknowledged and received individually … ‘if anyone …’. Person by person.

 

SUMMING UP
These seven churches and their descriptions are relevant to the church in any age and at any place. Here the church today is challenged and confronted. Here the church today is comforted and encouraged.

Questions for you:
[1] Go back and re-read each letter. Identify the relationship between Christ’s self-description at the beginning of each letter and the situation of that church.

[2] Look at the current state of your own church. Which negative and positive aspects of the seven churches are apparent in your church?

[3] What would Jesus have to say to your church today?

[4] Consider the state of Christianity generally at the present time. Of all the things Jesus said to these seven churches, which do you think he would be saying today? Why?