Friday, 06 May 2016 20:00

12. Letters with a template * Revelation 2 and 3

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The seven letters were written in a very organized way, and followed a specific format. They each have 6 parts:

- Recipient
- Sender
- Assessment
- Appeal
- Call to hear the spirit
- Promise to the one who overcomes

*** Recipient ***: All letters start with the phrase "To the angel of the church of ________”. As we studied in study #9, we saw that Jesus had the seven stars in His right hand (Revelation 1:16), and that the seven stars are the seven angels (leaders) of the seven churches (Revelation 1:20). Each letter was addressed to the leader of that church. The leader of the church is likely "the one who reads" (Revelation 1:3) the message to the members.

*** Sender ***: Jesus is the sender. This part starts with "Thus says", or “These things says”, which reminds us of the oracles of the Old Testament (just a few examples: Jeremiah 34:2; Ezekiel 11:5; Zachariah 1:3; Nahum 1:12; Isaiah 37:6; 2 Samuel 7:8). In the letters to the churches, He introduces Himself by using one or more of the characteristics described in the scene where He is walking among the seven candlesticks. That description is essential to help that church overcome their particular situation. Jesus comes to fulfill the specific need of each of the churches. To one, He comes with His two-edged sword, to another He comes with Eyes as flames of fire. Whatever the need is, that is how He presents Himself.

*** Assessment ***: Christ then gives his appraisal of the church, and identifies the current situation the church is in. Jesus starts by saying: "I know". He knows exactly what the condition of the church is because He walks among the churches. He knows them inside and out. And so, He states some positives, negatives, or neutrals about each one. Some appraisals may have also a warning, or a promise. In any case, Jesus always brings up relevant topics that have several layers of historical and spiritual meaning, that go beyond any standard human assessment.

*** Appeal ***: In this part of the letter, Jesus is extending His merciful and loving hand over the members of His church, and showing them what to do and what not to do in order to overcome their adversities. The appeal shows the church that there is still a chance for salvation. Even though some of the churches suffer from different degrees of the same problem, the path to be taken does not lead back to the church suffering from the similar issue but in a lesser intensity. This appeal is not a "trace your steps back" in order to find your way to salvation. Each of them have their own new road that leads them to Jesus.

*** Call to hear the Spirit ***: This section says the same thing in all letters: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches". The more accurate Greek translation of the beginning of this phrase would be: “The one who has an ear". Some versions say "Anyone", or "Whoever". This was not a new expression for Jesus. In different occasions Jesus would end His teachings with the phrase "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" (Matthew 11:15; Matthew 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9, 23; Luke 8:8, Luke 14:35). The important thing is that Jesus is calling everyone to hear His appeal, and come to Him. What He is saying comes from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit continues to pass this message along to all churches throughout history. The message and the call to hear are not just for that particular church being addressed, because what the Spirit is saying is to be heard by "the churches" (plural). This is a universal call, and a universal message.

*** Promise to the one who overcomes ***: The last part of the letter starts with "To him who overcomes". Some versions say "To the one who is victorious", or "To the one who conquers". Jesus has a special promise to those who hear the call to follow His counsel.

In the last 4 letters, the order of the parts “call to hear the Spirit" and "promise to the one who overcomes" is reversed. But all elements are present in all letters.

When we study these churches, we can see parallels, and a common thread between all of them. Dr. Stefanovic suggests that the churches are positioned just as the lamps on a menorah. The first communicates with the last lamp, the second with the sixth, the third with the fifth, and the fourth lamp in the center, is the dividing point among all the others.

The first and last churches (Ephesus and Laodicea) reflect the beginning and the end of the same problem: loss of the pure first love. Love is a strong feeling, and so is hate. The opposite of lack of love is then a lack of feeling. Therefore, the opposite of this lack of love is indifference. Ephesus presents with the first symptoms of loss of love. Laodicea is so far down this condition, that they have become lukewarm, and they are not even aware of their awful condition (Revelation 3:17).

The second and sixth churches (Smyrna and Philadelphia) are churches that have no negative things said about them. They are called to keep the faith they already have. They are both opposed by the ones “who say that they are Jews, and they are not, but are the synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9; Revelation 3:9).

The third and fifth churches (Pergamum and Sardis) reflect a situation where false teachings have entered the church. Pergamum is not tolerant of it, but some members do hold such teachings. Sardis is a dead church, where false teachings do not even bother them anymore. The majority of the church is at risk of being caught by surprise by the Second Coming. The few in Sardis who have not defiled themselves are already prepared and worthy to walk with Christ. Jesus warns the church to move away from false teachings by calling all members to keep remembering how they first “received, and heard, and kept” the true message (Revelation 3:3).

The fourth church (Thyatira), is the middle church. It is a divided church. Everything is said in pairs. It sits in between the third and the fifth churches, and is very tolerant of the false teachings, but is still interested in their good works. This is the longest letter of the seven, and it fiercely addresses the issue of the division inside the church regarding doctrine. The final reward will be dispensed according to the type of work the members are involved in: God’s work vs. works that require them to repent from (Revelation 3:22-23; Revelation 3:26).

*** Overview ***: In the letters to the seven churches, Jesus presents himself to the churches in a meaningful and customized way. No single church is addressed by all the characteristics of the "full Jesus". The needs of each church are different, and He will come to them to fulfill that specific need. As we look at these letters, we can see that Jesus is showing a message that is very relevant to us today. When we stop exercising God’s love, we embark in a clear path to complete indifference to God’s truth. Love for "self" grows, and as a consequence "self" starts to redefine truth according to its own agenda. Fortunately, we serve a loving God, who wants to reassure us that He is the Creator, and He can re-create us, so we can be with Him, and sit by His side on His throne. Nothing is impossible for Him. Nothing can stop Him from saving His remnant. Not even a dead church, or a self-sufficient and indifferent one. The path of the one who overcomes is a straight path, that leads up to Jesus.

Summary of the Seven Churches - Click to open

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