He Who Has An Ear, Let Him Hear: The Letters to the Seven Churches

Posted: December 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

John Calvin never wrote a commentary on the book of Revelation. It was for him a difficult book to understand. Today, most Christians would probably admit that they find the book hard to read because of the symbolism that dominates the content. Yet, when we forsake the reading and studying of this letter of John, we miss out on tremendous blessing. After all, the book begins by declaring blessing on “the one who reads the words of this prophecy [the book of Revelation], and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” (1:2-3). So, I commend the study of Revelation to you. Rich and variegated blessings await the careful student of the last book of our Bible.

This morning I spent time thinking through the letters to the seven churches that cover the first three chapters. After an introduction and doxology (1:1-8), the book moves into its first major section. From 1:9-3:22 John receives instructions for seven letters to be written to seven different churches. Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea are all Christian churches that Jesus addresses through the Apostle John. Within the contents of the letters we find encouragement, rebuke, and a call to persevere.

I will not walk through each letter here. Instead, I want to point out some examples of encouragement, rebuke, and a call to perseverance and then send you to your Bible to see if you are buying what I’m selling. First, a few of the churches receive some level of encouragement. Ephesus has persevered thus far (2:2); Smyrna is encouraged because their Lord “know[s]” their sufferings (3:9); Thyatira has love and faith (3:19). Second, there is a thread of rebuke that runs through the sections. Pergamum is allowing those who teach false doctrine to remain in their midst (2:14-15); Sardis has “a reputation of being alive, but [they] are dead; Laodicea is “neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (3:16). Thus, so far we see that in these letters there are both encouraging and correcting words.

The third element that is present within this section is the call to persevere. This call is given to each church without exception. The word “overcome” occurs at the end of each letter and carries the idea of enduring till the end. And if they persevere, then eternal life awaits. This “overcoming” may be to the point of death (cf. 3:21), but will result in eating from the tree of life (2:7), or being unable to be hurt by the second death (2:11), and so on.

When you put all this together some encouraging implications come out. Most of these churches were all faithful to varying degrees (the Laodicean church is the lone church that receives no commendation). Some were more faithful than others and, most had problems that needed to be addressed. None were perfect! Our own churches will be faithful to varying degrees. Our own local congregations will have issues that need to be rebuked and repented of. Yet, it remains true for us all, that if we persevere till the end, we will receive the crown of life. So, continue to be faithful in the ways you are being faithful, repent of what you need to repent of, and stand firm till the end that your name will never be blotted out from the book of life (3:5).

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