The Book of Revelation starts with a very clear introduction. Jesus has a message for the Church. That message will be revealed (revealed is the actual meaning of the word apocalypse) to John. Jesus is portrayed symbolically in his glorified form he has a sharp sword coming from his mouth and he stands among the seven churches. For Christians in a time of distress could there ever be a more encouraging image? The Lord almighty is among you watching over you. From this perspective Jesus begins his message by addressing the Churches.
I would urge you to read Jesus message to each Church and see if you can identify any themes. I think you will find three things. First that Jesus knows, he knows his churches intimately and nothing is hidden from him. The second theme is that you can’t abandon balance, Faithfulness and Love must be embodied by the Church. Finally, Hope, hope for the oppressed hope for the lonely and even hope for the sinful.
“I know” is how Jesus begins his address each time, whether the message is one of encouragement or one of reprimand “I know” carries a lot of weight. To the child who has been up to no good “I know” brings him or her up short. To the one suffering loss and loneliness and fear “I know” brings comfort and assurance and the connection that can only exist with someone who has walked the same road that we are walking.
Jesus knows what we are dealing with, look at Revelation 2:2, “I know your works your toil and your patient endurance…I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for m names sake and you have not grown weary.” Now consider Revelation 2:9, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not.” In Revelation 2:13 we read, “I know you dwell where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast to my name.” Revelation 2:15 says, “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance.” Continuing in Revelation 3:8, “I know you have but a little power and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”
Jesus knows when we are struggling. He knows when we feel beaten and alone. He knows how long we have been holding on and he wants us to know that he is with us.
Jesus also knows who and what we really are. We may be able to fool some of the people around us, we may even fool ourselves. Jesus is not fooled. In Revelation 3:1 he says, “I know your works you have the reputation of being alive but you are dead.” In Revelation 3:15, he says, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot, you say I am rich… not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” It’s easy to put on a good show and tell the world that you have all the answers to claim your good and righteous. This may work on some people maybe even yourself but you can’t fool Jesus so time to give up the charade. In all we do as Churches we must remember that we belong to Christ and can only live if we live in Him. If we do than nothing can extinguish our light. If not we are just dead branches to be gathered up and burned (John 15:6).
There Must Be Balance,
Faithfulness is not possible without Love and Love without Faithfulness is empty. Repeatedly we see Jesus admonish Churches for being only half what they need to be. In Revelation 2:2–4, he says, “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” The Ephesians seem to really want to be right, so much so that they made it all that matters. Being right technically is not the same as being righteous because that is a state of heart.
On the other hand we can see in Revelation 2:19–20, “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.” While Ephesus cared about being right Thyatira cared about being loving and serving and they did but then they tolerated false teaching. Part of Loving Jesus is obeying him and obeying him is not possible without the motivation that comes from love.
Ephesus was out of balance, Thyatira was out of balance. What about Revelation 2:13, “I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives. Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.”
It’s good to resist compromise with the world and to stand up for what’s right even under outside pressure. Sometimes when Satan can’t get to you one way he will try another. This Church has stood up against the world but then allowed false teaching to take hold from within. Again we see that a Church can’t emphasis one area and neglect another. If we are to be faithful and effective we must be sure that we don’t sacrifice one aspect of our faith and justify ourselves by pointing to something we are doing right.
The first recipients of the book had been fighting an uphill battle from the start. The second recorded sermon in Acts results in arrest and trial, from that point on it never stops. Steven, James, Paul, and countless others die for their faith. Tertullian was more than accurate when he said “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” To these faithful fighters Jesus offers hope.
There is hope for the oppressed. In Revelation 2:25, Jesus says, “Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my word until the end to him I will give authority over many nations.” In Revelation 3:9 he says, “Behold I will make those of the Synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not but lie behold I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you.” Jesus offers these suffering Christians assurance that they have made the right choice, that despite how things may look they will be better off in the end. How often have we seen this lesson and how often do we need to be reminded that while doing the right things will not get you much praise from the world it is well worth it in the long run.
There is hope for the lonely. Elijah once expressed his feeling that “only I am left” (1 Kings 18:22; 19:10, 14). He was wrong but we understand his feeling of loneliness. Jesus addresses those few who remain faithful in a compromising congregation in Revelation 2:24–25, “But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come.” In Revelation 3:4 he says, “Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” Even in these troubled churches there are faithful Christians who are doing their best and must feel sick to see their brethren and the congregation they love departing from the faith once delivered to the saints. These people Jesus encourages and says just hold on.
In a powerful demonstration of grace Jesus offers hope for the sinful. He makes it abundantly plain that he will not tolerate sin in His Church, but he also makes it clear that there is an alternative. In Revelation 2:5 he says, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen: repent and do the works you did at first. If not I will come and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent.” In Revelation 3:1–2 (to the dead church) he says, “Wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die for I have not found your works complete in the sight of God. Remember then what you received and heard. Keep it and repent.” In Revelation 3:18–20 (to the lukewarm church), he says, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” In all of these cases the church is in trouble yes but Jesus remains the Saviour and He pleads with them to repent and offers them hope just as He did to the previous groups but with a greater need.
As we look at these letters to the churches we see an overview of the challenges that beset the church for all time. We can all forget that Jesus Knows – he knows our needs and hardship he knows our true nature and he knows when we are not living up to his divine mandate. We must always strive for balance, we can easily get tunnel vision but that tight focus won’t keep us on the narrow path instead it will lead to compromise and to us missing key aspects of our Faith. The road is long and often weary that pilgrims walk through a foreign land. Jesus reminds us of home and calls us to hang on. Even if we have left the path completely He reminds us that He died to redeem us from sin and calls us to repentance and renewed faithfulness. What would you do if you got a note from Jesus? Imagine how often you would read it how highly you would value it how obsessively you would go over every detail. In these messages we have exactly that, Jesus warning us of where the pitfalls are and encouraging us to push on remaining strong in our faith until as he promises repeatedly in Revelation we receive the reward of victory.