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Friday, 06 May 2016 20:00

12. Letters with a template * Revelation 2 and 3

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20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
God is very organized.  If we stop to think about all the moments when God appears speaking and instructing human beings, we will see that what He was saying or doing always had an order. We already talked about the first example of this we see in the Bible. In the last study, we saw how God divided the week into 7 days.  He followed a plan, an order. Another example is how He gave all the instructions involving the tabernacle and the routine to be followed. Everything had an order and a reason. We see this organization even in the way the Ten Commandments are divided. The first 4 have to do with our relationship with God, and the last 6 have to do with our relationship with other people. The messages to the seven churches are no exception.  They all follow a format, a template.
Before we talk about this template, I want to remind you here that all the churches received the entire book of Revelation.  The book was the letter to the churches.  But in chapters 2 and 3, we see messages addressed to each of these churches.  All the churches saw all the messages.  Most likely the other churches in Asia Minor also had access to the information in this book.  With that in mind, we have to remember that today we can also learn important life lessons from this book.  Lessons that can have an impact on our choice for eternal life.
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 ***: Every letter has to have a recipient, obviously. All letters in Revelation start with the phrase "To the angel of the church of ________”. And then it says the name of the church. Revelation 1:20 says that Jesus has in His right hand, the church leaders that pass along this message. These leaders are the seven stars, or as verse 20 says, the angels of the seven churches. And it is to these angels that the letters are addressed. In Study #9, we saw that the word angel is used in the Bible not only to refer to celestial beings but also to the church leader. The word itself means messenger. This messenger of the church is the one who will read the message to the church, as we saw in Revelation 1:3. And according to this verse, the members of the church are called “those who hear”. And so, the recipient of the Revelation letter is the leader of each one of these churches, represented here by the symbol “angel of the church”.
*** Sender ***: This is another thing that every letter has. Every letter has someone who is sending the letter. In our case, here in Revelation, Jesus is the sender. And this part of the letter starts with this expression “Thus says”, or “These things says”, which reminds us of the oracles of the Old Testament (you can see a few examples of these oracles in Jeremiah 34:2; Ezekiel 11:5; Zechariah 1:3; Nahum 1:12; Isaiah 37:6;  2 Samuel 7:8). Now, look how interesting this is. Do you remember everything we saw about Jesus in chapter 1 of Revelation? 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 lampstands. That description is essential to help that church overcome its 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. Jesus doesn’t come in the same way to all the churches. He customizes His description to meet the needs of each one of them.
*** Assessment ***: In this section, Christ gives his appraisal of the church, and identifies the current situation the church is in. You will recognize this part because Jesus starts by saying: “I know”. So, whenever in the letters you read this expression “I know”, you will be able to recognize that you are reading Jesus’ assessment of that church. He knows exactly what the condition of the church is because He walks among the churches. He walks among the lampstands. He knows them inside and out. And so, He mentions things that are positive, negative, or neutral 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 way beyond any standard human assessment.
*** Appeal ***: In this part, Jesus is extending His merciful and loving hand over the members of His church, and He is showing them what to do and what not to do 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 a similar issue but in lesser intensity. This appeal is not a "trace your steps back" to find your way to salvation. Each of them has 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. On 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” (and the expression is here in the plural form, churches). 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. The important thing here is that Jesus is not only encouraging those who continue on the path to salvation but also, He is informing us that it doesn’t matter how bad the situation may become inside the church community. Even if that community claims to follow God but doesn't. God always has those who remain in the faith of Jesus.
Over the next studies, we will go into more detail about what was happening in each one of those churches, from the historical, cultural, and spiritual points of view. We will also look at what the Bible has to say about the situation of each one of them. But now, let’s explore this portion of verse 20 of chapter 1 that talks about the seven lampstands that John saw in the vision - that they are the seven churches. When we study these churches, we can see parallels and a common thread between all of them. Dr. Stefanovic, who is the author of the book called Revelation of Jesus Christ, suggests that the churches are positioned just as the lamps on a menorah, which is this seven-lamp lampstand that John saw near Jesus in his vision. This connection happens like this: The first lamp communicates with the last one, 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.
Bringing this comparison to the Seven churches, we can see the connection between the churches, and this is very important in this study that we will start on each one of these churches. So Let’s talk about this connection between the churches. The first and last churches, meaning, Ephesus and Laodicea, reflect the beginning and the end of the same problem: the loss of the pure first love. Love is a strong feeling, and so is hate. The opposite of love is then a lack of feeling and not an abundance of it like it would be in the case of hate. And so, the opposite 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 state (Revelation 3:17).
The second and sixth churches, which are 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” This is a very strong statement! And Jesus is the One who says it, in Revelation 2:9 and Revelation 3:9. When we study those churches, later on, we will go over this again, and we’ll find out what Jesus meant when He said that.
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 believe in some of those false teachings. Sardis is a dead church, where false teachings don’t even bother them anymore. And so, the majority of the church is at risk of being caught by surprise by the Second Coming. The few people 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 is Thyatira, and it is the middle church. Thyatira It is a divided church. Everything is said in pairs. It sits in between the third and the fifth churches, and it is very tolerant of the false teachings, but it is still interested in their good works. This is the longest letter of the seven, and it strongly addresses the issue of the division inside the church regarding doctrine. The final reward to this church 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).
The base of this lampstand, meaning, the base of the churches throughout the centuries, is Jesus. Do you remember how we mentioned so many times that Jesus is Priest? One of the jobs the priest had in the Old Testament was exactly this, to keep the flames of the lamps in the lampstand burning continuously. This was a very important activity that required extreme care. These individual messages to the seven churches represent this care that the priest had with the lamps. Each of these messages that we read here is as if Jesus was making sure the lamps were always open to receive the oil of the Holy Spirit, so they could continue to shine with the flame of the pure and unaltered truth of God.
*** Overview ***: The letters to the seven churches are written in a very organized way. Each one is divided into 6 sections that help us understand the message. In the letters, 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 on 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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