Summary: Part I of the message of Jesus Christ to the Churches. Instead of looking at the individual churches, this study examines the message.
The Message to the Churches
Chapter two and three of Revelations addresses letters to the seven churches in Asia. Many volumes of books have been written about the meanings behind these letters and what these historic churches symbolize. These letters serve as examples to be praised, failures to avoid, instructions for the believer and consequences for neglecting God’s purpose. When instructing the churches, Jesus followed the same pattern I am using to break down this study. He praised the churches for what was in order, He pointed out their areas of disobedience, He instructed with promises of their eternal reward and then warned against neglect that leads to failure. God never has allowed a middle ground. There are only two ways. Obedience to righteousness or sin unto death (Romans 6:16). There is no such thing as partial obedience. Either we trust God and submit or we don’t believe God and live in disobedience. When we obey, we do so out of faith, not obligation. True obedience is always out of faith. I obey because I believe His promises and know that His plan for my life is perfect. I believe His word completely – both the promises and the judgement. Disobedience is the opposite. I willfully choose a sinful lifestyle because I don’t believe God will keep His promises to satisfy and fulfill my life and I don’t believe He will really judge my actions. From the beginning, God has always given the same instruction – choose the blessing or the curse. In God’s presence is fullness of joy and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). Or choose as Psalm 112 warns, the wicked shall be grieved, he shall gnash his teeth and melt away and he will see his desires perish. Deuteronomy lays the groundwork of God’s principle of choice. Deuteronomy 11:
26 " Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse:
27 "the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you today;
28 "and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known.
Instead of breaking down this study to examine each church, I am going to examine these four areas of instruction – Praise, Failure, Instruction, and Rewards or Consequences.
Jesus praises the churches that are striving to fulfill His commands. If you take the time to read Revelation chapter 2 and 3 you will notice that not all of the churches receive praise for their efforts. Jesus straightway warns the churches that are living in total neglect of their purpose. The churches and people that are trying to live the Christian life are praised and then instructed. The instruction is necessary because it is far too easy to lose sight of the reason we have our faith and lose sight of the purpose of God’s call. I believe this is why Jesus always begins with praise for those living for Him. Here is what you are doing right but to fulfill the call these forgotten areas need new focus. We can’t see God’s plan. We can only see our narrow point of view. The word of God was written to be our guide so we are directed to God’s purpose. I can’t see how trials, events and benefits fit together until after the fact. For that reason, I have to trust God if I am to stay the course. God honors our efforts to please Him and directs us to His purpose. God knows that we are finite and shortsighted. Because of our human limitations, we can only see the command but often can’t see the reason behind it.
To encourage the church to continue the race, Jesus begins with praise for what is being done. The church is praised for its works, labor, patience, intolerance of those who are evil, testing those who claim to be God’s messengers and apostles, perseverance, and especially for enduring persecution and not denying His faith (vs. 2:2-3, 13, 19, and 3:10). Every deed, sacrifice, suffering and act that is done in faith and love for Christ will be rewarded and will not go unnoticed. Jesus said that what God sees in secret, will be rewarded openly (Matthew 6:4). God measures success differently that the world. It is easy to think that good works have to be seen, but God says that when we receive praise for our works, we have our reward already. God rewards labor that is done out of love and not for fanfare. The same is true for wealth. In Revelation 2:9, Jesus said, “I know…your poverty, but you are rich”. Then in 3:17 Jesus condemns the Laodicean church by saying, “you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' -- and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked”. The Smyrna church was suffering from tribulation and poverty, but God praised them and called them rich in spite of the poverty. The Laodicean church was comfortable, wealthy and at ease and God called them wretched, poor, miserable, blind, and naked. Laodicea was living for the ‘here and now’ but Smyrna was living for the hope of heaven and the eternal rewards of God. Those with an eternal perspective are always praiseworthy and those who love the world are always under condemnation (1 John 2:15).