If I were to ask you what is the one thing that most causes
problems in Christ’s church, how would you respond? No doubt we
could list numerous issues and different ones among us would point
to different sources of problems. If asked this question, I
believe I would have to say the greatest cause for problems in the
church is the world. The world constantly beckons to the church
trying to find some kind of middle ground, some common ground on
which the church and the world can relate to one another and walk
hand in hand. As churches respond to their culture, they take
different approaches. Each church needs the counsel of Christ to
learn the appropriate response. That is exactly what Jesus
provided in the letters to the Asian churches found in Revelation
2-3. Each congregation provides a different example
regarding how to respond to the cultural pull around us. Our goal
as a congregation this year is to impact the world. With that in
mind, I think it is important to learn to keep the world from
impacting us inappropriately. Throughout this year we are going to
occasionally take a look at each of these churches. In this
lesson, we are going to take an introductory and overview look at
these letters. Hopefully this will help us as we deal with each
letter individually in lessons to
Embattled churches: the churches in the Revelation
Sadly, we often take these letters out of their original
context. We struggle to understand the rest of Revelation,
but believe we have a good grasp of the seven letters. As such, we
rarely consider why these letters are in this book. Why aren’t
they a separate book or seven separate books like the other
epistles in the New Testament?
For all the disagreements about the book of Revelation.
Nearly everyone is universally aware of its ultimate purpose. This
book was written to let Christians know God wins the battle
against Satan. Satan recruits the aid of the beast (ungodly
government) and the false prophet (ungodly religion) and attacks
the people of God. These seven letters are written because these
churches are in that battle. Their members are part of Christ’s
kingdom, they are enduring the tribulation and they need to be
encouraged to persevere (Revelation
As we examine each church individually, this is the most
important consideration. Each of these churches responded to their
cultural battle differently. They represent the different
approaches we might take to dealing with the world. Where we
mirror each congregation’s approach we need to heed Christ’s
counsel to each one.
The Jesus who counsels.
Consider the description of the one who counsels these
churches in Revelation
1:12-20. Clearly this is Jesus. Revelation
1:18 says He is the living one who was dead and is now
alive forevermore. The eyes of flaming fire and the two-edged
sword coming from His mouth call to mind Hebrews
4:12-13. The gaze of the Jesus who counsels cannot be
fooled. We may, like Sardis, fool men, but we cannot fool this
Jesus who counsels us. His gaze burns away our deceptions and His
word cuts us to the quick assessing not only our actions but even
the thoughts and intention of our hearts. The voice of His word is
like the sound of many waters. That is, His voice is powerful and
His white head and hair and face shining brightly like the
sun shining in its strength is a picture of His purity and
holiness. This Jesus who counsels us, by sheer fact of perfect
holiness after even living in this world has the right to counsel
us, to call us to account and to issue rebukes and challenges. We
who are steeped in sin do not even have the ability to gaze into
His brilliantly shining face of holiness.
Jesus walks among the lampstands, that is, the churches,
and He holds the stars in His right hand, that is, the angels of
the churches. Jesus, though He has ascended to sit at the right
hand of His Father in heaven, is not far away from His people. He
walks among His churches witnessing their deeds. He holds each
church’s angel in His hand. There are multiple theories
regarding these angels. Some suggest they are angels assigned to
each congregation. Some suggest they refer to human messengers to
the churches whether evangelists, bishops or simply those who will
read this book to the churches in question. Still others suggest
this is another figurative representation of the churches
themselves. I believe I can come up with as many arguments in
favor of each of these positions as I could opposed to each one.
The important point for us to note is that Jesus is connected to
His churches. He is not on high looking down. He is among us and
This draws us to the most important point of this
description. Each letter begins with a personal description and
then the words “I know…” (Revelation
2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). Jesus sees us and knows us.
We can hide nothing from Him. Therefore, He has the right to
Sometimes congregations need to change.
We live in a day and age in which everyone wants to be
right. If you say some church is wrong, you will be immediately
castigated as arrogant, unloving and mean. In the midst of this
cultural mindset, the religious world tries to claim that
everyone, despite all of their differences is right. This simply
If there is one lesson taught from these seven letters, it
is that churches, at times, need to change. Five of these seven
churches are charged by Jesus to repent, that is, rethink their
state and change accordingly (Revelation
2:5, 16, 21-22; 3: 3, 19). Perhaps this point is too
simple to be stated as a point all by itself. However, I think we
have to recognize that churches can be wrong sometimes and
churches need to change. This is important for us because we may
look at these individual churches and find that we are right there
with them. We may, in fact, be wrong. We may not be dealing with
our culture and fighting the battle properly. In the end, we may
learn we are called to repent. If so, what must we do?
If we need to change, then we must change.
If we read the counsel to these churches and find we are
right there with them, then we must change. We must not fight it.
We must not get mad at Revelation.
We must not get mad at the preacher who is simply conveying the
message. We must change.
As John wrote to Ephesus, we will need to remember from
where we have fallen and do the deeds we did at first (Revelation
2:5). As he wrote to Pergamum, we may need to remove the
negative influences and erroneous teaching (Revelation
2:14-16). As he wrote to Thyatira, we may have to
encourage various members to repent of their sins and immoralities
while the rest hold on to what God has given us (Revelation
2:21-23). We may need to wake up and remember what we have
been told by God and follow through with it (Revelation
3:2-3). Or we may need to turn to God for spiritual
wealth, sight and purity, accepting His discipline, stepping up
our zeal (Revelation
3:18-19). Granted we may find that we are not like the
churches counseled to repent. But if we are, we must repent.
Rewards await us.
How tempting it is to succumb to our culture. How tempting
it is to just get along, throwing our hands up in the air and
acting as if there is really nothing for us to do. However, we
must keep in mind what is at stake. This is a battle, not a game.
These churches were in a fight, as we are. God has promised great
rewards if we overcome. If we learn from His counsel and excel we
will be rewarded. As we face our culture, let us take the counsel
of Christ and receive His reward.
of the tree of life in the paradise of God. Revelation
2:11—unhurt by the second death, which is hellfire (Revelation
2:17—hidden manna, a white stone with a new name written
on it. I believe a picture of spiritual strength, sustenance and
2:26-28—Authority and rule with Christ over the nations.
3:5—we will be clothed in white and Jesus will confess
us before the Father. Revelation
3:12—made a permanent pillar in the temple of God. And Revelation
3:21—we will sit down on the throne of Jesus.
What amazing rewards await us if we take Christ’s counsel
to these seven churches and overcome with Christ in the battle we
I am excited about our upcoming look at these churches and
I hope it is beneficial to us all, whatever we might learn from
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ