Are Revelation 2 and 3 about us?

Posted: Sat. Dec, 10 2016

A vital question

Many if not all  of you have read chapters 2 and 3 in the book of Revelation.  Some of you have studied them in detail.

But did you ever notice any differences between these letters to 7 assemblies, and the letters of Paul to the churches?

Did you ever ask this question:

Is Jesus speaking to us in Revelation with these seven short letters  to seven churches?

This is one of the  most important questions that we as Christians can ask about the book of Revelation.

And it is to this question that we now turn in this next series of blogs.

If the answer turns out to be YES -

Yes, Jesus is directing His statements in Revelation 2 and 3 to us, to the members of His body - it has profound implications for us. And the implications go to the core of who we are, and how we see our lives and our destiny.

If the answer turns out to be NO -

No, Jesus is not addressing us in His warnings and admonitions to the 7 churches - then the question becomes… if not us, then WHO?   To whom  are these warnings and admonitions and conditional promises given?

Who are the seven churches of Revelation?

This subject calls for careful study. This is especially needed in light of the many conflicting interpretations of Revelation 2 and 3.

 

First Impressions

We are first going to compare and contrast Revelation 2 and 3 to the letters of Paul.

Let’s begin by reading several passages in each and gathering some first impressions.

Here is a passage in Philippians, and, alongside of it, a passage in Revelation 3.

PHI 4:4-7
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 

REV 3:1-6
1 "To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ' I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead

2 'Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.  3 'So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. 

4'But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.  5 ' He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.  6 ' He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'

 

How can we rejoice if…

The letter to Philippi cries out to the church:  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice!

But rejoicing is absent from the letter to Sardis. In fact, it is absent from all the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3.

Besides, how can we rejoice always …  if we are dead?

How can we rejoice always in the Lord when He says that our deeds are not completed, and we need to repent, and wake up?  And if we do not wake up, the Lord will come like a thief.  By the way, that’s not a good thing!

How can we rejoice if most of us have soiled our garments and are not considered worthy by the Lord?

How can we rejoice if there is a good possibility that our names will be erased from the book of life???

 

Plenty to make us anxious!

To the church at Philippi,  Paul writes: Be anxious for nothing.

But the letters of Revelation 2 and 3 give their audience plenty to be anxious about!

In fact, there are several anxiety-producing things right here in the letter to the assembly at Sardis.

Anxious about being dead in the Lord’s eyes, and knowing that even the things that remain are about to die.

Anxious about the Lord coming like a thief when we don’t expect Him to.  He will be coming suddenly to judge us, discipline us, and perhaps issue final condemning judgment.  More on that later.

Anxious because two groups are addressed in these letters, and they are polar opposites. It’s the remnant versus the unrepentant, the sheep and the goats as it were.  What if we are goats?

There are two assemblies that do not receive a negative report and are not given a dire warning. They are  Smyrna and  Philadelphia. 

But are we associated with these two … or one or all of the other five?  That is a real worry if we think these letters are about us.

We would be anxious that we may be among those who do not overcome.

Anxious about having our names erased from the book of life also.

And there is plenty more along these lines to be anxious about in the other 6 letters of Revelation 2 and 3.

 

What about prayer?  Or our union with Christ?

In Philippians 4:6 we are encouraged to pray and make our requests known to God.

But there is no mention of prayer at all in any of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3.

In Philippians, we are in Christ.  Paul’s letters contain many references to our permanent union with Christ through the baptism by the Spirit.

There is no indication, however, that the recipients of the letter to Sardis are in union with Christ. Nor is there any indication that any of the other people in the other 6 assembles of Revelation 2 and 3 are in union with Christ.

Quite the contrary, actually.

Our Lord Jesus is depicted as being separated from the assemblies in several ways.

Only a few in Sardis are worthy, and will walk in white with Jesus.

The lampstands are the assemblies, and He threatens to remove the lampstand from the assembly at Ephesus.

Concerning the assembly at Laodicea, Jesus is on the other side of the door from them.   And the door is closed.  What’s more, Jesus is about to vomit them out of His mouth!

 

Grace? Love? Fellowship?

The assembly at Smyrna is about to be  tested. 

Now in Romans 8, the church at Rome is going to go through suffering as well. But they are comforted by the fact that nothing will separate them from the love of Christ or the love of God in Christ.

Strangely, no such comfort is offered the believers in Smyrna.  Rather, they are called to be faithful until death.  The spotlight is on their performance rather than the Lord  coming through for them.

In fact, It is hard to find any statements at all in Revelation 2 and 3 that speak of  the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, or the fellowship of the Holy Spirit acting on behalf of the assemblies in their present situations.

Nothing really about how the Lord is taking care of the assemblies, no reminder that they are forgiven, no assurance that their needs will be met. 

 

No condemnation?

Instead, the  message given repeatedly  is: repent or else. Cursing and blessing are conditional. And as things proceed in Revelation 2 and 3, cursing looks a lot more likely

Typical is this passage to the assembly at Pergamum:

REV 2:16
16 'Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. 

And our Lord tells the assembly at Laodicea that He is going to spit them out of His mouth.

That is a stunning depiction of rejection and condemnation.

REV 3:14-16
14 "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

 The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:

15 ' I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.  16 'So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth

Compare this to the letter to the Romans chapter 8:

ROM 8:1-4
1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

 

Wretched, or blessed?

The letter to the assembly at Laodicea continues:

REV 3:17 'Because you say, " I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,  18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that  the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.

This is the very opposite of what the members of the body of Christ are told in Ephesians:

EPH 1:3-8
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5  He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6  to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us.

 

Dead or Alive?

The church at Sardis has a reputation that they are alive but they are dead.

REV 3:1
"To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ' I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 

What a contrast to the members of the body of Christ.

We used to be dead, but now we are alive!

EPH 2:1-7
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ ( by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

 

The Coming of the Lord

Finally, let’s consider the coming of the Lord.

As the body of Christ, we look expectantly with great joy for the Lord to come for us.

Php 3:20-21
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

But in Revelation 2 and 3, while the coming of the Lord may be a good thing for a few (Smyrna), it’s a looming disaster for others (Ephesus in REV 2:5, Pergamum in REV 2:16, and Sardis in REV 3:3).

If we thought  we might be in the latter camp, we’d be dreading the Lord’s coming also.


What’s going on here?

This sampling is not conclusive, but we certainly get the impression that something very different is going on in Revelation from what we find in Paul’s epistles.

Well, this week we've just scratched the surface concerning this subject.

We have a lot more work to do.  But so far anyway,  it is hard to find much common ground between the overflowing joy and grace and security found in the epistles of Paul, and the severity of the separation, warnings and judgments found in Revelation 2 and 3.

If you think that the warnings found in Revelation 2 and 3 are directed toward you, that will color every aspect of your Christian walk and experience.

A Christian life that was based on Revelation 2 and 3 would be a very different kind of life from the Christian life that is based on the epistles of Paul.

 

Until the next time, we’re all ….

In His grip,

Pastor John

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