This is our fifth week in the book of Revelation and I am sure that we have been surprised by what the book has talked about so far. After all, many of us anticipated this series because of the fantastic visions and material in the book, as well as the possibility we would look into the future. Certainly there are those visions and there is that forward look into the end times. Yet, we miss what the book is about, if we do not see it exhorts churches today, living between the first and second comings of Christ, with how to remain faithful in holiness and mission in the midst of hostile cultures.
As we make our way topically through the messages to the seven churches in chapters 2-3, we especially see this very practical bent. Last week we discovered the importance of retaining and growing our love for Christ so we can have adequate motivation to pursue holiness and live on mission. Now, this week, we look more closely at who this Jesus is, why his presence with us, and his knowledge of us, along with his promised future reward, all should captivate our hearts so we will be his faithful witnesses.
To start, let’s look at what this Jesus is like who is in our midst.
1. JESUS IS IN THE MIDST OF HIS CHURCH TO EMPOWER US FOR MISSION AND TRIALS, AND TO CORRECT US.
Let’s look at the different ways Jesus is described in these two chapters.
A. He Is In Our Midst And We Are In His Hands. 2:1
In this verse we read: “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘[Thus says the one] who holds the seven stars in his right hand, [the one] who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” Since we looked at this verse and truth last week, we need spend little time on it, other than to remind ourselves that Jesus is present with us as a congregation, to empower us for mission and against difficulties. Additionally, we are in his hands and so nothing can happen to us that he has not at least allowed. This means he can not only bring good out of it, but also can work in our behalf to help us.
In the rest of the descriptions of Jesus given to the other churches we see even more about why his presence and sovereign plan for our lives should make a difference.
B. He Is Sovereign Over History As The Eternal One And, At the Same Time, Is The Resurrected Lord Who Has Accomplished New Life For Us. 2:8
Here we read: “Thus says the first and the last, who was dead and came alive.” These same two descriptions of Jesus are tied together in the chapter one vision of him (1:17-18): “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’”
This description of Jesus shows he is God and, as such, is stronger than those who may oppose our ministry (cf. Is. 41:4; 48:12; Rev. 1:8). He is in control of history and so can work in our behalf—and yet not only this, as the resurrected Savior he has secured our life and future. As such, as he exhorts the church in Smyrna, so we must remain faithful to him even in the face of opposition, push-back, and full-out persecution (Rev. 2:8-11)! The point is similar to what Paul makes in 1 Cor. 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
C. He Judges And Disciplines Those In And Out Of The Church, As Needed. 2:12
Here is how he is described: “And unto the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘Thus says the one who has the sharp two-edged sword.’” To a church located in a place filled with much pagan and imperial religion and also a strong Jewish population—and so they would have faced much push back and persecution—Jesus exhorts them to overcome this idolatrous spirit so they can avoid discipline, judgment, and can have eternal life. That he has the “two-edged sword” refers to the fact he is judge and one who can discipline (see Rev. 19:15). Additionally, because he knows the state of each church infallibly, he also knows those who need comfort in the midst of affliction and those who need to be afflicted since they are inappropriately comfortable.
This certainly corrects the current popular view of Jesus Christ among most evangelicals who see him as a Mr. Rogers-type figure who would never judge or discipline!
D. He Is The Only Son Of God, The One Worthy Of Worship, And The Only Ultimate Judge. 2:18
Because the situation at Thyatira was similar to that of the church in Pergamum, Jesus gives a similar picture of himself: “And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘Thus says the Son of God, the one who has his eyes as a flame of fire and his feet like burnished bronze.’” The message here is stronger since the church had moved that much further down the road of idolatry.
E. He Is The One Who Brings The Fully Empowering Spirit Of God To Us. 3:1
To a church in a town that twice in its history had been captured by enemies due to lack of vigilance, Jesus speaks with warnings about their lack of vigilance, reminds them they are in his hands, and also reminds them his Spirit is present among them, not only to reveal where they truly are, but also to empower them so they can be vigilant: “And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘Thus says the one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.’”
F. He Is God, The Only One Who Can Save Sinners. 3:7
Referring back to the chapter one vision (1:18), we read: “And unto the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘Thus says the holy one, the true one, the one who has the keys of David, the one who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.’”
Regarding Philadelphia one commentator explains:
In appreciation for imperial reconstruction aid after an earthquake (a.d. 17), Philadelphia was briefly renamed Neocaesarea (“Caesar’s New City”), but Jesus promises his suffering church an infinitely greater name, “the city of my God, the new Jerusalem” (v. 12). Philadelphia lies near a fertile valley, especially suited for growing wine grapes. Inscriptions from Philadelphia mention worship of Zeus and Hestia, and the Roman imperial cult was already present by the first century a.d. An inscription from a nearby town mentions a synagogue in that town. Christians in Philadelphia later received a letter from the early church father Ignatius (c. a.d. 110), and they suffered during the martyrdom of Polycarp (c. 155).
Christ commended the church for its enduring witness—a witness he will enable them to keep. He also encourages them to persevere by his grace so they can experience his full end-times rewards.
The reality he can fully save them and all believers should encourage us to remain faithful, no matter what level of trials, push back, or persecution we face.
G. He Is The Creator And The Ultimate Faithful And True Witness. 3:14
One commentator helpfully provides some historical background to this town:
Damaged by an earthquake in a.d. 60, self-sufficient Laodicea, a commercial center and site of thriving medical and textile industries, declined imperial disaster relief. The city did not see itself as “poor, blind, and naked” (v. 17), nor did the complacent church within it. In this last church alone Jesus finds nothing to commend. Laodicea was famous for its worship of Zeus, who appears on some of the city’s coinage.
Referring to the supply of tepid water in the town that was unlike the cold water that was piped into Laodicea for drinking and unlike the hot water springs in the area that were good for medicinal or therapeutic purposes, Jesus unveils through the pen of John that the church was useless, for they had an ineffective witness and mission. They were in such a deplorable situation that there was nothing for which he could commend them.
Yet, he, as the Creator (the one who could change and re-create them) and the true witness (who could also work in them to be faithful witnesses) can transform them, if they are willing to answer his call and return to fellowship with him (3:20).
Part of the reason that we must look to Jesus’ empowering and correcting presence is that we face trials, as well as temptations simply to give up. This is why we must pay attention to the main take away in these two chapters, to endure patiently.
2. CHURCHES ARE TO ENDURE PATIENTLY.
Though we won’t spend a lot of time here, consider what is said to each church…
A. 2:2-3: “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary.”
B. 2:9-10: “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation.” (Dependent upon Daniel, see Beale)
C. 2:13, 17: “Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells…. To the one who conquers….”
D. 2:19, 25: “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first…. Only hold fast what you have until I come.”
E. 3:4: “Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.”
F. 3:10-11: “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.” (Compare to John 17:15)
G. 3:15-20: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
So, we are not only called to faithful worship and witness, but to endure in these, even in the face of trials, persecution, and the temptation to give up.
Right now, our challenge in southcentral Nebraska is not full-blown persecution. Instead, it is our fear of what might happen, if we were his witnesses: Rejection, people thinking we are weird, losing our accolades from others, being seen as different, out-of-step, and maybe even negative employment results.
How do we deal with this? It is found in the empowering, encouraging reality of Christ’s presence—especially as we grasp all the reasons why he is sufficient to take care of us and empower us.
Yet, there is another motivation for us…
3. CHURCHES ARE TO BE MOTIVATED BY THE PROMISE OF THE REWARD OF ETERNAL LIFE AND THUS WE ARE TO PERSEVERE (TO CONQUER).
Consider all the promises made to the churches in these two chapters, if we persevere in and by Christ. They are all also mentioned in the last chapters of the book of Revelation, which not only shows the book is tightly tied together, but these rewards are very important motivations for godly living.
A. 2:7b (eat of the tree of life [cf. Gen. 2:9; 3:24]).
B. 2:10, 11b (crown of life and not hurt by the second death).
C. 2:17b-c (eat of hidden manna and white stone with new name).
D. 2:26-28 (rule over the nations and given the morning star).
E. 3:5 (clothed in white, not blotted out of book of life, confessed before Father).
F. 3:12 (pillar in temple with name of God and God’s city written on them).
G. 3:21 (sit with Jesus on throne).
In Acts 1:8, after Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit to come upon them, he also explained what the result would be: “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Part of the permanent and powerful indwelling of the Holy Spirit that the New Covenant Church experiences is that we are transformed into those who want to and can be witnesses unto Jesus Christ before others. Part of the way this happens is that the Spirit applies the person, power, presence, and work of Christ among the church and the Spirit can do this since Jesus Christ won for the church this pouring out of the Spirit through his death and resurrection (cf. Acts 2:33).
The church is not only empowered for mission by the presence of Christ and his Spirit among the church, but also encouraged toward faithfulness and perseverance by focusing upon the presence of Jesus Christ (and why he is sufficient to help us face trials, push back, and persecution) and the eternal rewards he promises to those who endure.
These first chapters of Revelation surprise us by calling us to this central question: Are we pursuing holiness and living on mission for the glory of God, even when to do so puts us at odds with the cultures around us? There are ample motivations here either to start this pursuit or to persevere in it.
Joyfully Serving As A Witness To Jesus With You,