This Tuesday we will be reading through Revelation 2. This chapter contains Jesus’s oracles to four of the seven churches – Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and Thyatira.
Revelation 2-3 contains the seven letters to the seven churches. Each of these churches was located in a major city in western Asia Minor near the Agean Sea along a common Roman mail route. These churches are located not far from the Isle of Patmos where John had been exiled.
Each of these letters has a similar structure:
- An opening address to the church’s angel (Greek for “messenger”) which could refer to a heavenly guardian angel or simply the local leader of the congregation and which begins with the statement “Thus says”;
- A description of Christ primarily drawn from the preparatory vision in Revelation 1:12-16 so that Christ is speaking to the churches in his full heavenly divine glory;
- A commendation to the church;
- A condemnation against the church (usually);
- A challenge to the church;
- A call to the church to hear the Spirit; and
- A promise to those who conquer (repent/stand firm).
This structure is very similar to the structure of prophetic oracles throughout the Old Testament. (See, Isa 1:24-31, Micah 6, Zech 12). John wants to emphasize the heavenly source and authority of these messages. And, as the Old Testament prophesies, John wants to both give hope and strength to his audience while at the same time calling them back to a more God-centered life.
As we read through these seven letters, the challenge to us to see ourselves as being spoken to within these seven oracles. Continuously ask yourself how have I earned Christ’s commendation and how have I deserved his condemnation. Most importantly, however, see yourself as the recipient of the promises made in each of these letters.
The Church at Ephesus:
The earliest Christian writers tell us that John’s home community was Ephesus. John, as the leader of that community, had been already been exiled, and we can assume that the persecution of his community had continued.
This letter opens with Jesus being described as holding the churches in his hand and standing among them. These are words of comfort for a community undergoing persecution and who have recently lost their apostolic leader. John has involuntarily left them, but Christ remains with them.
The church is praised for its patience endurance in suffering and for its good works. It is commended for discerning those who are true apostles from those who are false and evil apostles (See, 1 John 4:1-6). This is a good, orthodox congregation that in all outward appearances is following Jesus and his example.
The Ephesians’ commendation, however, is also the source of their condemnation. They have the right beliefs and can discern good leaders from bad, but in doing so, they have abandoned the love that they had at first. (See, 1 John 4:7-21). In their pursuit of righteousness, they have lost their love for others and for one another. The oracle commands them to remember the love they had at first, repent of their abandonment of that love, and to return to that love in which they were founded.
The promise to the Ephesians is that by remembering, repenting, and returning to that first love they will regain the tree of life. This is the overall promise of Revelation. Rev. 22:1. Salvation comes from our first love. This too is the promise to us – if we can recover that love which is God himself, then we too will regain the tree of life and the beatific state of the Garden.
The Church at Smyrna:
Smyrna was also a major port on the Agean and located about 35 miles north of Ephesus. Its bishop, Polycarp (who was ordained by John), was martyred there in about 135 by a mob comprised of both Greeks and Jews.
The letter opens with Jesus being described as the “first and the last, who died and came to life.” For Smyrna, Christ is the sovereign ruler. The oracle reminds them that regardless of what may be occurring, it is Christ who remains in control and it is he who will give them the ultimate victory over death. Persecution and death are not the end of their story.
The church in Smyrna is fiscally poor and is under constant attack from the Jews. They are probably a predominately Jewish congregation that has been ejected from the local synagogue and cut off from ethnic business and social ties. The oracle warns them of impending suffering, imprisonment, and testing. For the Smyrna congregation, things are bad and are going to get worse.
In this oracle, there is no condemnation for the church at Smyrna. There is a time for everything, and Christ, in his love and protection, knows that this is not the time for discipline and correction. Rather than condemnation, the oracle only builds up the congregation.
The promise to Smyrna is that by being faithful unto death, they will inherit the crown of life and not suffer the second death of annihilation. (See, Rev. 20:14). The physical death in this world is not the final death. Christ being the firstborn from the dead will bring eternal life to those who are martyred. This is the promise of the Gospel to all of us.
Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is Hawaiian chicken. Discussion about 7:15. Hope to see you here.
I have set the Lord always before me; *Psalm 16:8-11
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.
My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
my body also shall rest in hope.
For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
nor let your holy one see the Pit.
You will show me the path of life; *
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.