Revelation – Letters to the Churches – 3

Revelation 1:3-4aBlessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. John to the seven churches that are in Asia

Revelation 2:7 – He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

Revelation 2:11 – He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

Revelation 2:17 – He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’

Revelation 2:29 – He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Revelation 3:6 – He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Revelation 3:13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Revelation 3:21-2221 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.

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Do you like receiving letters? It always means a lot when you get a personal, handwritten letter from somebody. It means they took the time and purposefully thought of you. What would happen if you received a letter from Jesus? What would you do? I read this and thought it was fitting for what we are going to hear in these letters:[1]

Ruth went to her mail box and there was only one letter. She picked it up and looked at it before opening, but then she looked at the envelope again. There was no stamp, no postmark, only her name and address. She read the letter:Dear Ruth, I’m going to be in your neighborhood Saturday afternoon and I would like to visit.
Love Always, Jesus

Her hands were shaking as she placed the letter on the table. “Why would the Lord want to visit me? I’m nobody special. I don’t have anything to offer.” With that thought, Ruth remembered her empty kitchen cabinets.

“Oh my goodness, I really don’t have anything to offer. I’ll have to run down to the store and buy something for dinner.”

She reached for her purse and counted out its contents. Five dollars and forty cents. “Well, I can get some bread and cold cuts, at least.”

She threw on her coat and hurried out the door. A loaf of French bread, a half-pound of sliced turkey, and a carton of milk…leaving Ruth with grand total of twelve cents to last her until Monday. Nonetheless, she felt good as she headed home, her meager offerings tucked under her arm.

“Hey lady, can you help us?”

Ruth had been so absorbed in her dinner plans, she hadn’t even noticed two figures huddled in the alleyway. A man and a woman, both of them dressed in little more than rags.

“Look lady, I ain’t got a job, ‘ya know, and my wife and I have been living out here on the street, and, well, it’s getting cold and we’re getting ‘kinda hungry and, well, if you could help us, lady, we’d really appreciate it.”

Ruth looked at them both. They were dirty, they smelled bad and frankly, she was certain that they could get some kind of work if they really wanted to.

“Sir, I’d like to help you, but I’m a poor woman myself. All I have is a few cold cuts and some bread, and I’m having an important guest for dinner tonight and I was planning on serving that to Him.”

“Yeah, well, okay. I understand. Thanks anyway.”

The man put his arm around the woman’s shoulders, turned and he headed back into the alley. As she watched them leave, Ruth felt a familiar twinge in her heart.

“Sir, wait!”

The couple stopped and turned as she ran down the alley after them. “Look, why don’t you take this food. I’ll figure out something else to serve my guest.”

She handed the man her grocery bag.

“Thank you lady. Thank you very much!” “Yes, thank you!” It was the man’s wife, and Ruth could see now that she was shivering.

“You know, I’ve got another coat at home. Here, why don’t you take this one.” Ruth unbuttoned her jacket and slipped it over the woman’s shoulders. Then smiling, she turned and walked back to the street… without her coat and with nothing to serve her guest.

“Thank you lady! Thank you very much!”

Ruth was chilled by the time she reached her front door, and worried too. The Lord was coming to visit and she didn’t have anything to offer Him.

She fumbled through her purse for the door key. But as she did, she noticed another envelope in her mailbox. “That’s odd. The mailman doesn’t usually come twice in one day.” She took the envelope out of the box and opened it.

Dear Ruth, It was so good to see you again. Thank you for the lovely meal. And thank you, too, for the beautiful coat.Love Always, Jesus

The air was still cold, but even without her coat, Ruth no longer noticed.

Last week we just got done seeing Jesus in all his glory. He promises He is coming back again. He is writing us letters in hopes that we would prepare for his arrival. We are going to see good things and bad things in these letters about the state of our hearts and how we are living. And as we evaluate ourselves in light of these letters, it shouldn’t just change our expectation of his arrival for the future, but it should change how we live for him now in the present.

He wrote these for all churches. Every time he concludes a letter to a church, he uses the plural “churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Remember, this is a circular letter. If you go in a counterclockwise motion from Patmos and make the rounds of the churches in the Roman province of Asia, you would be following the exact route of the churches as they are listed in these two chapters. And just like with any symbolic, apocalyptic writings, often when you see a number, it has some other intended meaning. The number 7 is a number that means completion. So the fact that there are only 7 churches listed gives the impression that they are not only for the individual churches but for the church as a whole. These letters were also intended to be read aloud in all the churches, likely from start to finish. So, though they deal with specific problems in specific churches, they are also meant to admonish and encourage people in all churches.

There is no perfect church. James Hamilton makes a good point about these letters as they were written in history. “When this letter was written, the apostolic age had not yet closed! The church has never really had a ‘golden age’ when everything was right. From the beginning there were problems.”[2] This gives me hope and it challenges me, as it should you. So many times people hop to and frow to church after church because something isn’t just right. Guess what, you’ll be hopping your whole life. File this away right now for the rest of your life. Plug into a church for the long haul. Don’t bail immediately when things get difficult. Do the hard work of seeking to make it healthy if it is not. That’s what these letters to these churches are for. Jesus is saying, here’s some good. Here’s some bad. Do something about it. So, even though it is for the church as a whole, it is really for the individuals within the church.

He wrote these for individuals. Notice how many times he says, “He who has an ear, let him hear…” Warren Wiersbe says, “Churches are made up of individuals, and it is individuals who determine the spiritual life of the assembly. So, while reading these messages, we must apply them personally as we examine our own hearts.”[3] These letters are for you. And, as it says right off the bat, you are blessed if you listen and do what it says (1:3). When you get harsh words said against you, often it is easy to be seen as an attack. But, when the words come from somebody you know who loves you, they come from a place of encouragement, to better you.

He wrote these to encourage. Many times in these 7 letters, John is writing with a longing for the church and its individuals to overcome…to conquer (2:7, 11, 17; 3:21). John was a pastor at heart, seeking to encourage these churches during a difficult time of persecution. It’s not easy for us to hear, but it is necessary for our health. There is a lot of judgment that lies ahead in the book of Revelation, but as Warren Wiersbe says, “Before Christ judges the world, He must judge his own people.”[4] That’s what he is doing in these letters…to you.

The content of these 7 letters are all similar, and we can benefit from starting off by getting a birds eye view of these before we dig deep into them in the coming weeks. The content of these letters can be summarized as: For the glory of God the churches are to be zealous for the gospel, reject false teaching, and live according to the gospel.[5]

For the glory of God. Each letter starts with some aspect of who Jesus is in relation to what the letter is going to say.

Revelation 2:1 – The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

Revelation 2:8 – The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

Revelation 2:12 – The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.

Revelation 2:18 – The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

Revelation 3:1 – The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

Revelation 3:7 – The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

Revelation 3:14 – The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

The most important thing in all of life is Jesus. The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is, “To glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”[6] The most important aspect of your life and eternity is what you seek to glorify.

Be zealous for the gospel. Each letter contains either a warning about not taking the gospel seriously or encouragement that they are zealous for the gospel and should keep going.

Revelation 2:4 – I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.

Revelation 2:10 – Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Revelation 2:13 – I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith

Revelation 2:26 – The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations

Revelation 3:3 – Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.

Revelation 3:8 – You have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Revelation 3:16 – Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

Are you taking the gospel seriously? Is it the most important thing in your life? Or are you lukewarm? Have your forgotten the love you had at first?

Reject false teaching. Many of the letters contain some charge for them to not listen to some particular false teaching and to listen to and follow the truth.[7] One commentator says, “All of the letters deal with the theme of faithfulness to Christ in the midst of an often-threatening pagan culture.” This is so important to us today, as we have so many voices yelling at us, telling us which way to follow. And the whole time, we have God’s Word guiding us to himself.

You hear what you listen for. When you have a sound machine on to go to sleep, do you hear the sound machine? Yes and no. Even though you hear it, you tune it out so you don’t hear it. It’s the same way with the voices around us.

Are you listening to the voices around you? Are you listening to your own desires? Or are you listening to God’s Word and submitting your mind, body, and future to what it is saying?

Live according to the gospel. Action must always follow correction. If I discipline my child, it is so they do not do the same thing I just got them in trouble for. It is the same way with the discipline of God.

Hebrews 12:11 – For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

So, will you be one who listens and is blessed? Or will you harden your heart and pursue destruction? The choice is laid before us as it is laid before these churches. Which will you choose? And you must choose.

[1] https://www.cobblestoneroadministry.org/sermon3.html

[2] James M. Hamilton, Jr., Revelation, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 56.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2007), 1040.

[4] Wiersbe, 1040.

[5] James M. Hamilton, Jr., Revelation, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 59; G. K. Beale similarly notes the content of these letters as, “Christ encourages the churches to witness, warns them against compromise, and exhorts them to hear and to overcome compromise in order to inherit eternal life.” G. K. Beale, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2015), 53.

[6] https://thewestminsterstandard.org/westminster-shorter-catechism/

[7] 2:2, 6, 14-16, 20, 24


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