The Revelation They Needed (Revelation 2:1-3:22)
Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 2:1–3:22
Happy Ever After
The Revelation They Needed
(One Truth: Your Word is Truth)
November 23rd, 2014
I. Remember the Address
An address is an important thing, isn't it? Especially if you're sending a letter. Listen again to the address we find in the opening chapter of the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ...
“John to the seven churches that are in Asia” (1:4) [seven verses letter we learn more...]
“Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” (1:11)
For most of you, this is old news. Why? Because we've just spent the last seven weeks digging into the individual messages, the mini-letters that compose chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation. And as we've done this, we've learned so much about these seven churches and the unique, but sometimes similar circumstances in which they found themselves.
Remember for a moment what we discovered about each:
Ephesus: Committed, But Compassionless
Smyrna: Persecuted, But Prosperous
Pergamum: Constant, But Compromised
Thyatira: Increasing, But Indulging
Sardis: Acclaimed, But Apathetic
Philadelphia: Powerless, But Persevering
Laodicea: Pleased, But Pitiful
Why go back over what we've already learned? Well, before we proceed into the main part of the letter, it is absolutely critical that we remember the address. It is very easy at this point in our study to feel satisfied that we've heard what Jesus wants to say to these churches, and then move on without remembering that this entire letter, this whole book was written for these seven churches. This was the revelation they needed.
You may recall that Foothold #4 (from the Five Firm Footholds we talked about in lesson 1) stated that “Revelation should always be taken as a whole.” And this is absolutely critical, because as you know, the rest of the book is a just a bit more challenging in terms of interpretation.
II. The Passage: “Hear What the Spirit Says to the Churches” (2:1-3:22)
So here's what I'd like us to do this morning. Let's turn over to chapters 2 and 3 again and see if we can summarize the main concerns or issue facing these seven churches.
Based on what we've already learned about these churches, why is this book or letter the revelation they needed? How did it address their concerns, their challenges, their confusion? How would it have convicted them? How would it have comforted them?
There are many things we could talk about in terms of the circumstances of these seven churches, but I've chosen five broad themes to emphasize. So looking back over the short letters of chapter 2 and 3, I think the first thing we can say is that these churches needed to know...
A. What It Means to CONQUER
We saw that, for the most part, every one of these mini-letters followed the same basic pattern. And the last element common to every letter was a description of reward.
2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21 all begin with the phrase “to the one who conquers” or “the one who conquers”, which is followed by the promise of one or more specific eternal blessings from Christ. The Greek word used here is the word nikao. The athletic company Nike draws its name from this Greek word for victory.
On the night before His death, Jesus declared: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have [nikao] overcome [been victorious over, conquered] the world.” (John 16:33)
When the same apostle who recorded those words of Jesus wrote many years later to followers of Christ, he built on that foundation of Jesus victory and declared:
...and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have [nikao] overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (I John 4:3-4)
John would go on to write about the nature of true, saving faith: For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. (I John 5:4)
So a critical question we asked and need to continue to ask in regard to the seven churches is, “What does it mean, or what does it look like, to conquer spiritually. We did see that each letter included specific calls to repentance and obedience, but we also saw that in three of the letters, to Ephesus, Thyatira and Philadelphia, in 2:2, 2:19 and 3:10, Jesus commends these churches for their “patient endurance”, that is, their perseverance in the faith.
Similarly, the church in Pergamum is commended for “holding fast” the name of Jesus, even when one of their own was killed for his faith; additionally the church in Philadelphia is encourage to keep holding fast in their obedience.
In this context, Jesus speaks twice of coming “tribulation” (2:10, 22), and in 3:10 of an “hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.”
Therefore we could say the one who conquers is the one who is steadfast to the end, the one who, by the grace of God, crosses the finish line of faith. The second theme we need to emphasize is tied to this. This Revelation came because these churches needed to know that...
B. We Must Guard Against COMPROMISE
Several of these letter spoke about either the reality of or at the potential danger of spiritual compromise. This could be compromise in regard to zeal, in regard to spiritual fervor, as in Ephesus and Laodicea. Or it could be compromise in terms of healthy teaching, which then led to moral compromise, as was the case in Pergamum and Thyatira. It appears the believers in Sardis also were guilty of moral compromise.
We also know that in both Smyrna and Philadelphia, the Christians there were being persecuted by Jews in those cities. This might have involved false charges being brought against the disciples, which then might have led them into tension with the Emperor cult which was very prominent in most of these cities. To worship the Roman Emperor was to compomise what was true about Jesus as Lord and the nature of God himself.
This kind of civic pressure to compromise was also felt from the trade guilds in many of these cities, especially in Thyatira. As we talked about in regard to that city, “...what would you do if your office party or company picnic included idolatry and sexual immorality? [This] made it very hard to be both a Christian and a member of a guild. And so living for Jesus could make it hard for you to make a living.
But these kinds of pressures lead us to our third emphasis from these seven short letters. This Revelation is what they needed because they needed to know that...
C. God is Truly in CONTROL
For disciples who were, in many cases, beginning to suffer because of their faith in Christ, it must have been frightening to feel like things were starting to unravel, as even local civic leaders exerted pressure on these Christians to compromise.
This is why John begins his letter by referring to Jesus as “the ruler of kings on earth” (1:5). He also describes Christ as the “first” and “last” (1:17, 2:8), a way of say that everything comes from him, AND summed up in Him, and therefore, He is Lord over everything in between. Jesus tells these churches repeatedly, “I know your works...I know your tribulation...I know where you dwell”. Christ as a perfect knowledge of what is happening with and happening to His people.
In light of this knowledge, Jesus also reveals to them the true spiritual nature of their suffering. 2:10...“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation...” But notice that Jesus can tell them in advance about this test. And he can go on to say in the same verse: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
The Jews were not in control. And, yes, they were a synagogue of Satan, but the devil was not in control. Even the civic leaders were not really in control. Jesus is “the ruler of kings on earth”. And His insight, and His encouragements, and His promise of incomparable reward all point to this reality that, as Paul put it in Romans 8:28, ...for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. And this ties in beautifully with our fifth emphasis. These seven churches need to know that...
D. Jesus Christ is COMING
As we saw a couple Sundays ago, there's no escaping the fact that this book is emphatic about the coming of Jesus...
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. (1:5-7) And then also at the end of the book: “And behold, I am coming soon.” (22:7) “Behold, I am coming soon...” (22:12) “Surely I am coming soon.” (22:20)
We find this same emphasis chapters 2 and 3: “Only hold fast what you have until I come.” (2:25) “I am coming soon.” (3:11a). But what is really fascinating is that even though we instantly think of the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world, Jesus also speaks about coming to these churches in a different way: (to Ephesus) “Repent...if not, I will come to you” (2:5) (to Pergamum) “Repent...If not, I will come to you soon...” (2:16) (to Sardis) “If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” (3:3b)
And if we think these kinds of coming are miles apart, consider this. As Jesus both warns and woos the believers in Laodicea, He tells them...”Behold, I stand at the door and knock...” (3:20). Might this point us back to a passage like Luke 12:35, 36...
“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning,  and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.”
Luke 12 is clearly a passage about the Second Coming of Christ, as is Mark 13:29... “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates [door-same word as Revelation 3:20]”.
Was Jesus warning the churches about a spiritual coming, in order to discipline them, or was He only talking about a visible coming that all would see, or some combination of the two? I'm not sure we can answer that question yet. But it is abundantly clear that these seven churches were being encouraged to live their lives, not entertaining ideas of a distant and distracted Lord, but living with a continual sense that Jesus was imminent; that He stood ready; that He was at work, and was ready to act. The Master of the house was coming home. His servants needed to be ready.
Another idea connected with both the idea of CONTROL and COMING is the idea of judgment. Yes, Jesus was coming to discipline His churches if necessary, but he was also returning to judge.
He warns of warring against the false teachers in Pergamum “with the sword of my mouth” (2:16) He warns of throwing the so-called prophetess in Thyatira “onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works,  and I will strike her children dead.” (2:22-23) And the so-called Jews in Philadelphia, who persecuted the church, Jesus promises, “I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.” (3:9)
Along these lines Christ's final coming leads inescapably into the fifth and final emphasis from these letters. The Revelation is the revelation these churches needed because they needed to know of...
E. The Hope of the CONSUMMATION
If you look in a dictionary, one the definitions of consummation is “the ultimate end.” In the Bible, the consummation of this present age is the wrapping up of all things: the end of history as we know it, the destruction of the world system, and the final judgment of all people by God, the “Judge of all the earth”.
But the book of the Revelation reminds us that the consummation is also the inauguration of an eternity of blessing for those whom Jesus Christ has redeemed, those who have been victorious, or conquered, by grace through faith.
Just think about what these letters have taught us about the eternal rewards that await followers of the Lamb: “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ (2:7) “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (2:10c) “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” (2:11) “...I will give [him] some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’ (2:17) “...to him I will give authority over the nations...And I will give him the morning star.” (2:26-28) “[he] will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” (3:5) “...I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (3:12) “[and]...I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (3:21)
III. Setting Our Trajectory
Now, those verses from the chapters 2 and 3, those promises to the seven churches, are a perfect way to come back around to the original point I was making at the outset of this survey. When we remember that this entire letter was written to these seven churches, we would expect to see that God, that Jesus, that the angel whom Jesus sent (1:1) will go on, for example, to expand upon these eternal blessings. And that's exactly what we find in the closing chapters of the book.
In the same way, the other four themes we find in the mini-letters of chapters 2 and 3, these themes will also set our trajectory for the rest of this book.
But if we don't keep that in mind, it is very easy to get disoriented and headed in the wrong direction when we come to the visions that begin in chapter 4. So as we move into the second part of the book, beginning in January, we always need to be asking, “How would the message contained in these visions, how would it speak to the needs of the seven churches?” And we will definitely see how all of these themes come up time and time again.
But for us this morning, this should be more than just an exercise in good, sound Bible study methods. These themes do help us establish the original setting of the book and they do set our trajectory for interpreting the remainder of the book. But shouldn't these emphases also set the trajectory for our lives as well?
As we face pressures on the outside, and struggles on the inside, as we face trials that test our faith, don't WE also need to know what it means to conquer? When we are tempted by things like power, pleasure, prestige, and possessions, don't WE also need to be reminded that we must guard against compromise? As difficulties mount, as relationships are strained, as finances are stretched, as sickness infects, don't WE also need to know that God is in control? As days turn into weeks, and weeks into months, and months into years, as the race continues and we begin to grow weary, don't WE also need to remember that Jesus Christ is coming? As we are tempted to believe this is all there is, as we draw close to the end of our lives, as we feel the sting of loss, don't WE also need to know the hope of the consummation?
There's a reason every single mini-letter in chapters 2 and 3 finishes with the same phrase: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” We need to hear what the Holy Spirit has said to these seven churches, because He is speaking those same words to us this morning. And the only way we can conquer or overcome is the only way they could conquer or overcome. They and we are reminded of this truth in Revelation 12:11...
And they have conquered him [the devil] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
Let's thank God, once again, for the cross of Jesus, and for what He's shown us this morning, and let's pray that we would stay on His trajectory, in both our interpretation of this book, and in our affections, aspirations, and attitudes.
More in Happy Ever After (Revelation)
November 22, 2015Keep What is Written (Revelation 1:1-22:21)(overview)
November 15, 2015I am Coming...Come! (Revelation 22:6-21)
November 1, 2015A Tour of Our Future Glory (Revelation 21:9-22:5)