“They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” (Malachi 3:17)
The letters to the churches are written on a high standard of literary craftsmanship. It is an artistic whole and closely integrated. Each letter starts with a characteristic of Jesus mentioned in the first chapter, except the last one, Laodicea. All the descriptions of Jesus are taken from the Old Testament applied to the risen Christ. The scene is set for Christ in conversation with His church. He is holding them in His hand, moving amongst them in a close and warm relationship.
The churches depict the church of Christ at all times, historically as well as the end time church. The number seven symbolizes completion and full inclusion. The cities where the churches were, were all located on a trade route in Asia Minor, a province of Rome. It was not the most important or largest churches at the time of writing. It does not symbolize any denominations, although some interpretations of the historical view, explain the greater trends in Christian history alongside these letters in Revelation. As was said in the beginning, Revelation could be interpreted on multiple levels. For now, we are asking God to let us hear what the Spirit says to the church for this very moment in our lives. We always need to hear God. The promise is that He will speak to us. God’s voice is the pearl beyond price, the truest treasure of all – not theologically correct and all-inclusive interpretation.
Therefore My people shall know My name;
Therefore they shall know in that day
That I am He who speaks:
‘Behold, it is I.’” (Isaiah 52:6)
The angels of the churches are the messengers bringing the Word of God. Jesus spoke about our guardian angels in Matthew 18:10. In Acts 12:15 an angel helps Peter escape from prison, supernaturally. To the Jewish ear, this was nothing new or strange. Angels are commanded to support and minister to the church. The church is us – blood-bought, born-again children of God. It is confirmed in Hebrews 1:14:
Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?
The leaders of the church are important to God and carry great responsibility as well as blessing and anointing to be equipped for their task.
“For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge,
And people should seek the law from his mouth;
For he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 2:7).
All the churches are addressed in a certain way to recognize a commission, a character description of Christ, a commendation (except Sardis and Laodicea), a condemnation or censure, a correction, a challenge and a covenant promise.
Ephesus – the loveless church
Ephesus was a big city with a harbour that served as the gateway to the region. It was a free city, meaning it was self-governing with only occasional tours of the Roman proconsul, an official much like a provincial judge. Many tribes and nations lived together and the city was known for crime and immorality. It was famous for its games in the arena offering cruelty and killing as entertainment. It was the centre for the worship of Diana (Greek = Artemis), the goddess of fertility portrayed in ancient times by a many-breasted female figure. It was also known for many superstitions represented by small objects and charms that were supposed to bring good luck, healing or fertility that were called Ephesian letters. People came from everywhere to buy them. Paul stayed in Ephesus quite long, Timothy was the first pastor and according to Acts 18 Aquila, Priscilla and Apollos ministered there. It was the residence of John before and after his exile to Patmos.
Jesus holds the seven stars in His hand. He is in complete control of everything. In His own words:
And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:28)
Jesus walks amidst the lampstands (the church). He is always active and works tirelessly on our behalf. “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” (John 5:17)
He praises them for their hard work, endurance and labour for good, but their good works have developed into loveless orthodoxy and routine. They hated the Nicolaitans, who was a group claiming superior status of spirituality and permitting idolatry and immorality, indulgence and no restrain.
The command is to repent as the church is threatened from the inside. The loss of the first love, the warm excitement of a new relationship, makes them powerless and ineffective against the onslaught of sin. Faithful persistent love lasts till the end.
…having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. (John 13:1)
A loss of first love is easily recognizable by the working of the Holy Spirit to reveal and convict. It is exposed in over-familiarity in things divine, arrogance and a superficial approach to the Word of God. Characteristics of a first-love relationship are vision and purpose combined with humility and dependence on the Holy Spirit. The church is prepared to do what it takes to love like Jesus – faithfully to the end.
The threat to remove the lampstand comes to the leader of the church to save the flock and to give them to a leader more worthy. God always looks after the remnant and actively rescues the scattered sheep after the wolves have battered them.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7:15.)
For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. (Acts 20:29.)
It is very important to note that the condemnation comes with the purpose to clear the way for blessing. We are never confused as to what God requires. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin, judgment and righteousness in order to lead us to repentance and effectively rid us of sin, so that God’s blessing and reward can flow freely.
To the overcomers God promises the Tree of Life in Paradise. To Jewish thought the Tree of Life was a fragrant, beautiful tree with good produce to feed and give shade. All of these images speak of the restored relationship with Jesus so that the circumstances of Eden can be reconstrued. In His presence there is no decay, no destruction – only peace and perfect love.
Smyrna – the persecuted church.
Smyrna was a beautiful city known as the crown of Asia. The sea breeze catching its location made it cooler, but blew the smell of sewage drained into the sea right back to the city. It was an important trade centre and the city grew in a well-planned way around business. It had a “street of gold” where the Temple of Zeus (principal Roman god) and temples to other deities formed a “necklace” around the hill on which the city was located. It was a free city, loyal to Rome in Caesar-worship [see Pebbles 41] and known for its culture.
To this city Christ is introduced as the risen Messiah, the First and the Last who was dead and who lives again. The earthly splendour of the city is nothing compared to victory over death. The Jews are very influential and very hostile to the Christians. Polycarp, a very influential bishop in the early church was martyred at the games in Smyrna. Christians lived uncertain lives and belonged to the lower classes. Their possessions were plundered by anybody who felt like it and they could not accumulate wealth. They were spiritually rich.
It is noteworthy that the ancient world tried to fill their “godly gap” with all sorts of deities, which led to much confusion and countless animal sacrifices to multiple gods in case any of them are angry. Worship to one God, almighty and all wise, was very attractive to many. The Jews were exclusive about Judaism, but allowed Gentiles into their fold under strict adherence to the Law and limited access to the Temple. Christianity, preaching a loving, welcoming God, ready to save and bless with no animal sacrifices, was a balm of peace and assurance in a world of many and mostly hostile gods.
The synagogue is now of Satan as it became an assembly working against the purposes of God. This happens when the Presence of the Lord leaves the community of believers and rebellious people determine the agenda. Read about the rebellion of Korah and God’s purification of disloyalty to His chosen leaders, even with their weaknesses. No leader is perfect, but he is the anointed of God and God will deal with him. Rebellion can be very confusing and leave the sheep scattered.
They gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” So when Moses heard it, he fell on his face; and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, “Tomorrow morning the Lord will show who is His and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to Him. That one whom He chooses He will cause to come near to Him. (Numbers 16:3,4,5)
The period of ten days is symbolic for a short and limited time. Prison in those days was mostly a prelude to death. Christianity was persecuted under many accusations – cannibalism (eating flesh and drinking blood – symbolic in communion, but deliberately falsely understood), lust – love message distorted, family break-ups, fire-raisers with talk of the apocalypse, disloyal to Rome because their refusal to worship Caesar, etc.
The crown of life is a victorious crown of triumph in battle. The victor’s crown is stephanos in Greek and diadem in Latin. The Romans loved crowns. They wore them to banquets, the games and even for worship. The crown of Jesus is everlasting and depicts victory over the second death.
The second death is only ever mentioned in Revelation (20:6,14 and 21:8) and means eternal separation from God. The Sadducees (a Jewish religious group slightly different from the Pharisees) believed there was no life after death. Some Jews believed in an intermediate phase, much like the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. Daniel 12:2 and John 5:29 talk about the graves of the faithful dead. For us, the word of Jesus to the murderer on the cross next to Him is our guide to death.
And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43. Physical death is a mystery, but never scary. Jesus was victorious over death and took the sting out of the finality and overwhelming helplessness of death. (1 Corinthians 15:55)
My prayer is, Pebble pal, that you will read Revelation with a humble, but confident spirit of understanding and share in the blessing of prophecy. Safely shaded under His wing and sheltered in His shadow (Psalm 91) in the invisible kingdom of God on earth, all the confusion and evil around us are described and predicted in this book, to encourage us that we belong to another world and live here only as pilgrims and strangers, never victims, but as overcomers. (Hebrews 11:13)
Next time: Pergamum(os) and Thyatira.