Beyond the Lectionary Text: Revelation 2 & 3

by Sam Perry

Comments and Observations

In these two chapters are seven letters to the seven churches. In some measure each letter has the same form. Each letter begins “To the angel of the church in ______ write: These are the words of Him who….” And there is some description of Jesus Christ drawn from chapter 1. This is followed by encouragement. In five of the seven letters there is also rebuke and in two letters there is no rebuke. Then at the end there is an individualizing of the message (To him who overcomes…….He who has an ear) So regardless of what the church does, there is individual responsibility.

To him who overcomes really could be translated to him who conquers (nikao). And the form of the conquering depends on the content of the letter. So in the first letter, it is conquering that which is condemned in the letter, drifting into a cold love. The language of eating from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God harkens back to Genesis where Adam and Eve ate from the tree they were forbidden to eat. God says, “We must banish them from the garden, lest they eat from the tree of life.” So the tree of life becomes a symbol of eternal life and in the new heaven and new earth the tree of life is to be enjoyed. So this says that even if a whole church is wiped out, the person who overcomes will enjoy the presence of God on the last day.

Christ is presented as one who walks among the lampstands and caring for his church. He knows what is going on in his churches and examines them. It is not as though God doesn’t know what is going on in your church. He holds the seven stars in his hand. Christ knows what is going on, “I know your deeds” he says. He is the one before whom there is no hidden thought or secret deed. Then he compliments them for things any person would love to hear Christ say about their church. He commends them for hard work. And the hard work they do is consistent. He speaks of perseverance in their hard work and deeds. Further, he commends them for their lack of tolerance. Oh how this flies in the face of our contemporary culture. He recognizes they cannot tolerate wicked men. This is a disciplined church. It doesn’t mean they hate everyone who disagrees with them. It means that in the church evil practice isn’t put up with. And to drive the point home, vs. 6 repeats the claim. The point being there are moral practices, that God hates. And these Christians are commended for hating them as well. So the question for us is, “What practices do you hate today in Christ’s church?” What practices does Christ hate in our churches? If he hates them shouldn’t we as well?

To be sure, this can be practiced in very unhealthy ways. I have known ministers who seem to hate everything, and use it to promote themselves. What is being talked about here, however, is a deep moral principled alignment with the mind of God, so that if God hates certain evils, then so should we. This is what the Ephesians have in their favor. They are also a discerning church. They test those who teach. Just because someone talks about Jesus, this church will not be snowed. They are commended for testing. And their perseverance is brought up again.

Then there is the rebuke. They have forsaken their first love. He calls them to repent and if they will not repent, the church will be shut down.

I am convinced that most every Christian goes through seasons of dry spells. It is part of living in a fallen world. Often God uses these times to bring greater maturity in an individual through difficult circumstances. But when this is happening to an entire church, it is far worse. This is a church that is described as doing good things without a love for the Lord. So they do things because they are Christians and they have always done them. They persevere. But Christ sees their love is gone. It is done out of some sort of grim determination. Jesus Christ calls them to repent of it. And if they won’t, the church will be closed. Real Christianity includes an element of delight in the living God. Persevering is good, but what is really needed is a kind of delight in God that wants to know Him. This is something we repent to change. We can pray with one another, encourage one another. Read. There are things we can do to fan the flame of our delight in the Lord.