Seven Lessons from the Seven Letters
Have you ever finished something and immediately wanted to experience it again? It might be when you step off a ride at Dreamworld, finish a good book, listen to a great album, visit a new city, or eat a good steak.
I felt this way when we finished our recent sermon series ‘Dear Church: The Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3’. I found our study of these chapters to be personally challenging, convicting, and encouraging. Rather than preach the sermons again (I wouldn’t want to subject you to that), I thought I’d offer a reflection on seven lessons I’ve learned from the seven letters in Revelation 2-3.
- Jesus loves the church
The seven letters clearly reveal that Jesus is attentive to his church; he knows what is going on and he cares deeply (2:1). He cares enough to provide specific encouragement, stark warnings, and glorious promises. The obvious challenge is what about us? Do we love the church? Are we devoted to the church? Are we attentive to the church? You might say yes with your lips, but what does your life say? Your prayers, your priorities, your schedule, your bank account? If we love Jesus, we will love what he loves, and he deeply loves his people.
- Deeds are not enough
Most of the churches were busy and hardworking. Jesus says repeatedly to the churches “I know your deeds…” (2:2, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). But for some, these deeds were deceptive. They masked a hollow, heartless faith. Their activity covered up a lack of reality. Ephesus were hardworking but loveless. Sardis, busy but lifeless (spiritually speaking). If you peeked beneath the many rosters and full calendar of these churches, there was no beating heart of genuine love for Jesus. This is a perennial danger for people of faith. And it’s one that we must be intentional and careful to avoid by fostering a real relationship with Jesus. We don’t have to fake it, but, like all real relationships, we do have to work at it, spending time with Jesus in his word, in prayer, and with his people.
- Truth really matters
For some churches, the problem was a failure to genuinely live out the truth of the gospel (e.g., Ephesus, Sardis, Laodicea). For others, particularly Pergamum and Thyatira, the problem was a failure to defend it. They allowed false teachers and false teaching to gain influence in their churches and to lead their people astray. Jesus condemns their carelessness with choice words (2:14-16, 20-25). It’s a clear reminder to us about the importance of clearly defining and defending the truth of the gospel against modern distortions and dilutions.
- Persecution is not permanent
Two of the seven letters were written to churches facing overt persecution for their faith in Jesus. In the case of Philadelphia, they had been weakened by external opposition (3:8), whereas Smyrna were being slandered and were facing prison, even death (2:9-10). The particulars are not exactly the same for us (or as serious), but the lesson is still vital. Jesus encourages these downtrodden churches by reminding them that persecution is not permanent. He assures them there is a great reversal coming when the victims will become the victors (3:9) and the martyrs will be made into royalty (2:10). In the midst of persecution, whether it’s mild or deadly, we can take great comfort in this promise.
- Endurance is everything
The point of the barnacle and blue whale illustration that I used somewhat excessively throughout the series was to highlight what I believe to be the main point of what Jesus wants from his people. Namely, through all the ups and downs of life in this world, to trust him and to keep trusting him. To hold onto him and to never let him go. Jesus repeatedly and in various ways calls his wayward or weak churches to turn to him or return to him in wholehearted trust (e.g., 2:10, 25, 3:3, 11, 19-20).
- Our battle is spiritual
Some of the letters mention certain groups and individuals causing trouble for the church (e.g., the Jews, the Nicolaitans, Jezebel, etc.). But interestingly, this opposition is ultimately attributed to Satan, our spiritual foe. The Jews place of worship is described as ‘the synagogue of Satan’ (2:9, 3:9), the city of Pergamum as the place ‘where Satan’s throne is’ (2:13), and the teaching of Jezebel as ‘the deep things of Satan’ (2:24). It’s a reminder that the origin of opposition to the church is ultimately spiritual, not human. To use the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6, “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (v.12).
- Our future is bright
Each of the seven letters basically follows the same pattern. Each begins with a different description of Christ, followed by a compliment (except for Laodicea), a criticism (except for Smyrna and Philadelphia), a command to correct the situation, and then a promise for ‘those who are victorious’. Each of the promises are glorious and reveal our bright and glorious future. They can serve to encourage us to keep going and to not give up until that day when King Jesus returns to gather his people to himself once and for all.
“To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
With you on the journey,