At the end of each of the seven letters to the seven churches [Revelation 2 and 3], is the command ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

At the beginning of each letter it is clear that the one who dictated these letters to John is Jesus Christ, the glorious figure present among his churches [Revelation 1:11-20]. In addition, each letter is directed to a specific church. It is easy, from the beginning and the content of each letter to conclude that that letter is relevant only for that one local church, and only at the time of writing. From there it is a very easy step to discard these letters as having no relevance for us today.

But when we come to the end of each letter we are very quickly corrected. Each of these letters is not just what the risen Lord Jesus said to specific local churches then, but what the Holy Spirit is saying to all churches everywhere.

Here in Revelation 1 to 3 [and 22:16] the words ‘church’ and ‘churches’ are used to refer to local gatherings. Nowhere does Revelation use these words to refer only to people of genuine faith, people who are ‘born again’ by the Spirit of God. The people who meet together in these local churches are a very mixed group. There are people so totally devoted to Christ that they are willing to die for him, and people who have no real faith at all. There are people with acute theological discernment, and there are people who cannot recognize false teaching even when they are trapped in it and corrupted by it. There are people who strive to honour Christ in their lives, and there are people happy to give in to peer pressure.

Together, these churches potentially reflect the state of any local church. In these letters Jesus Christ speaks to every one of us in whatever local church we are involved.

He challenges us about the level of our love for him.
He encourages us to hold fast to the truth in the presence of error
He encourages us to be faithful in the presence of persecution.
He challenges us about our moral standards.
He challenges us where we are complacent.
He challenges our ignorance of our spiritual bankruptcy.

His repeated ‘to him who overcomes’ has a twofold intention:

To strengthen those who have genuine faith by reminding them of the grand, glorious multi-faceted salvation they already have in and through him, and which will be theirs for eternity. Just as he has already saved them and blessed them, so he will also save them and bless them forever.

To impress upon those who do not have genuine faith the urgent necessity of overcoming the evil one by believing Jesus Christ and being cleansed by his blood. Only by such an overcoming, only by such repentance and such faith can the stated promises of salvation and blessedness be applied.

This twofold urgency is applied to everyone who ever reads these seven letters by the repeated ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’. Even now, when true believers read these letters they are challenged and encouraged to hold fast to Jesus Christ, knowing that their salvation in him is eternally secure. Even now, when ‘nominal Christians’ or blatant unbelievers read these letters they are given yet another opportunity to repent and believe while it is still the ‘day of grace’ so that they too will enjoy the salvation and blessedness that is the secure possession of all who ‘overcome’.

As the writer to the Hebrews urged his readers: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’ [3:15].

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015