Lord Jesus, thank You for caring for Your church. Help us remain faithful witnesses to You, even in the face of terrible suffering and persecution. Protect us from cowardice and compromise, and let our light shine brightly in this darkened and rebellious world. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Read Revelation 2-3
At the beginning of Revelation 2, something amazing happens: Jesus the King speaks to each of the seven local churches represented by the seven lampstands. The letters are extraordinary not only because of their detail—Jesus knows everything about these churches!—but also for the themes that run through them. Even more, because these seven churches represent all churches, what Jesus says to them helps us see very clearly what He wants and expects from His churches now. It’s easy to think the letters to the seven churches are just a grab bag of a hundred different exhortations. But if you look carefully, there are really two major themes—two things King Jesus expects from His churches and for which He either commends or condemns them.
First, Jesus expects His church to faithfully witness to Him despite the world’s persecution. That theme runs through all seven letters, though it’s perhaps clearest in the letter to the church at Smyrna, where Jesus says, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10). Even in the letter to the church at Ephesus, the “first love” they have lost doesn’t seem to mean merely heartfelt devotion to Jesus, but rather love for Jesus particularly borne out in witness to Him. In other words, Jesus tells them they have stopped bearing testimony to Him, even as they’re bearing up under suffering. After all, Jesus introduces Himself to them in 2:1 as the One who “walks among the seven golden lampstands,” thus reminding them of their purpose. What’s more, He promises them in 2:5 that if they don’t recover their first love, He will remove their lampstand—a fitting punishment for a church that’s no longer shining its light.
Second, Jesus also expects His churches not to compromise with the world. So the church at Ephesus is commended for zealously defending the truth (2:2), while the church at Pergamum is warned about following the ways of Balaam, that is, the way of idolatry (2:14). The same is true in Thyatira, where the church is sadly tolerating a woman whom Jesus calls Jezebel—an infamous woman in the Old Testament who led the people of Israel into idolatry and impurity.
2 I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
- Here’s the main theme of these seven letters: In each one, Jesus gives a status update about that particular church’s witness. Are they holding fast and faithfully witnessing to Jesus, or have they lost the zeal they had at first and become lukewarm and therefore useless? Are they shining light in a dark world, or are they compromising with the world and giving themselves over to idolatry and worldliness?
- We would do well to ask those same questions of ourselves and of our churches. Are we faithfully and zealously about the work that King Jesus gave us? Are we bearing witness and remaining unstained by the world, or have we closed our mouths to compromise with the world around us? How do you think of your local church? Is it to you a kind of heavenly retirement community, a cruise ship that will entertain you until you get to heaven? If that’s how you think of your church, the book of Revelation would challenge that. The church is none of those things, but rather a military unit and an embassy of the high King of heaven. Therefore, be creative as you think about and act on ways to broaden and deepen your witness to Jesus. That’s why we exist. How can we do it better?
Watch whether lukewarm “Christians” are saved (2:56).
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- Look through these seven letters. Where else do you see Jesus exhorting the churches to maintain their witness even under hardship and persecution? Where do you see Him warning them not to compromise with the world, or commending them for not doing so?
- How is your church carrying out the Great Commission to bear testimony to the crucified and risen King? What communities is your church seeking to reach with the gospel? How are you contributing to that effort?