Part 1: Background
The letters to the churches of Revelation 2 and 3 have much to teach us almost 2000 years later because what Christ said to them, He might also say to us. Therefore, we need to study them carefully to see how they speak to our churches and us individually. I know these letters enrich me each time I study them. Some years ago I had a similar series, but these are totally new. Let me also state that when God gives me idea of what to write, that I’m not saying, “I’ve got it made and this is what you need to do.” No, usually I have to apply the same message to my own life before I can pass it on to you. First, we look at a little background:
These churches, in modern day Turkey, needed a lot of encouragement and strength from the Apostle John because emperor worship was becoming popular and Christians would be persecuted for not obeying. Tradition says the disciple whom Jesus loved was the only one who was not martyred, although he was persecuted. John referred to himself this way in John 13:23; 21:7 and 20, perhaps because he was the youngest of the 12 disciples, and in that culture people looked down upon youth.
Each church received an individual letter, but they were also expected to circulate their letter to the other churches. These then were passed down through all the generations of believers to us. Today, we can see what each letter may say about our own church. If we see constructive criticism of our church, then we need to first of all pray for ourselves and our people because if there is an issue, we may be a part of it. Then we need to ask God if we should speak to a leader about this, definitely not in a way of complaint or gossip but to change whatever the problem is. It is so important to be sure the Holy Spirit is leading us if we mention an issue to someone else; when He leads then He will move to correct the problem. On our own, we simply cause trouble.
More importantly, we need to see what the letters say to us individually. Do we find something in ourselves we need to correct? At other times God may commend us for what we are doing. If we let these letters speak to our own lives, we will get the most benefit from studying them. Most of the churches received both commendation and positive criticism on areas to improve. What will the Holy Spirit speak to us as we study?
We need to understand that the book of Revelation uses many symbols because of the persecution. The “words of him” refer to Jesus’ statements to the churches. The stars refer to the angel of each church, while the lampstands indicate the churches themselves (see 1:20). You’ll also notice that “seven” is often used in the verses we study – actually 52 times in the whole book. Seven is a number of completion or perfection, meaning that what God has to say to these churches is typical of what He might say to generations of churches, including ours today and also to us, the believers in them.
The whole first chapter of Revelation describes John’s vision of Jesus Christ while John was imprisoned on the island of Patmos for preaching the gospel. Even there, he worshiped on the Lord’s Day. God gave this beloved disciple a wonderful picture of the future of the church (meaning the whole body of believers world-wide) but also a terrible description of the end of time. God then told him to write it down so all Christians could read it. These letters were describing what was happening at the present time but would apply to the church in coming ages too; then would come the final times. Furthermore, Revelation 1:3 tells us, Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. Therefore, it’s important for us not only to read what is in this book but to understand what it speaks into our own circumstances today and then do whatever God leads us to do.
As we consider these letters, we must remember that the dominant theme of this book is Jesus Christ, our Lord. Please take the time to read John’s description of his and our Master in chapter 1. It’s like no matter what words John tried to use to designate the majesty of Christ, they weren’t quite enough. Indeed, His glory is far beyond anything we can imagine, and John had seen the risen Lord face to face a number of times before His ascension. So as we read and consider what Jesus said to these churches, let’s remember that no matter what they were going through, Jesus was still Lord and was with them. The same holds true for you and me.