Revelation 1: 19-20; 2: 1-7
‘Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 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.
‘To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favour: you hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
We have seen in chapter 1, in Revelation, the curtain is pulled back between the visible and invisible world, between earth and heaven - and, with the Apostle John, we get to see what is happening behind the scenes of human history, we get to see who is really on the throne, and it’s Jesus. He’s Lord and God of human history. No matter what happens, no matter how dark and chaotic life becomes - He’s sovereign over all and He is in control. That my story and your story are part of His big story and His big story ends with glory.
Today we come to chapters 2 and 3.
My wife Becky and I weren’t going out very long before we got engaged, around 4 months. We fell in love very quickly, which was great except that Becky had already booked a 3 week trip to Australia to visit her brother. Therefore we were both dreading being apart for that length of time. In the end she went for only 2 weeks, but just before she left she handed me a parcel and inside it was 14 envelopes – each containing a short letter for every day she would be away. And so every day I would open the envelope – never sneak a peak before the right day – and in the letter she would just have written one thing she loved about me.
After a few days it was probably getting more difficult for her to think of nice things! But it was so good to open the letter and know that the one I loved, even though I couldn’t see her – she cared enough about me to communicate with me in this way.
In Revelation 2 and 3 we find a series of 7 letters and they are written to 7 named churches. They are letters from Jesus, received by the Apostle John, and he is then to pass them on to the Christians in each of the places Jesus writes to. The places are all in the Roman Province of Asia which is modern day Turkey. But because the number 7 is the number of completeness, it has been assumed that these letters are for all churches in all places at all times. They are just as much for us today, as they were for those who first read them in 95AD.
In the whole of the Book of Revelation we get 3 predominant images of Jesus: Glorious King, Righteous Judge, and the third one is Devoted Bridegroom who is passionate about his bride. And who is the bride of Christ?
The bride of Christ is the Church, it’s you, it’s me, it’s all Christians from every age in every place. We are the bride of Christ. And the Bible makes it very clear - one day there’s going to be a wedding – Jesus is going to return for his bride and take her to be with him forever.
Later in Revelation, in chapter 19: 7-8 puts we read this:
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.”
Just like any human groom, when Jesus returns for his bride he wants to find one who is ready, who is prepared, who is pure and faithful and devoted. A radiant church, a passionate church, a loyal church.
It’s in that context that we need to read these letters that Jesus writes to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3. Jesus is writing letters to his bride, his beloved, his people, the church he gave his life for, and he’s saying: I’m passionate about you, I’m with you, I see what’s happening to you, and this is what I think of you.
But those who are married for more than a week will know – at times there’s also stuff you need to deal with. It’s not always sweetness and light and roses and kisses. There can be real problems and challenges and things you need to confront. At times you need to show tough love – and say – I will not tolerate this any more.
In the same way - Jesus doesn’t patronise and pander to His people. He doesn’t ignore the problems or brush them under the carpet - tell us everything is OK, we’re doing great, when there’s actually stuff that needs to be sorted out. No – He tells us the truth, He challenges His bride, He encourages His people where they are doing well, He tells them to keep going – but he also confronts them when there is sin and compromise and unfaithfulness. He tells His bride – I expect more from you.
Each of the 7 letters follows a fairly similar pattern.
First of all - Jesus introduces himself in each one in a different way, reminds them of who He is.
For example: The letter to Smyrna: “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” (2:8)
Why does Jesus start each letter this way – by telling the church something about Himself and His character? Because as the church, our identity comes directly from Jesus’ identity. We are His bride, His body, His people, and who He is shapes and determines who we are and how we see ourselves. He gives us a new identity.
When we, the church, lose sight of who Jesus is, we lose who we are and we lose our way. We saw that last week. The vision we get in Revelation is not of a humble, Galilean Rabbi Jesus that we often see in the Gospels.
But it’s that of a glorious King, Holy, awesome, majestic, righteous, powerful. To Hs people, then and now, in the midst of a hurting world filled with pain and suffering, this King Jesus brings comfort and encouragement and hope.
So Jesus tells them who he is. Then he generally, although not in every case, gives them a word or two of encouragement. This is what I love about you, this is what you’re doing really well at.
Then once He has encouraged them, once He has praised them, He then tells them where they’re not doing so well, areas they need to look at and improve if they are to be the bride he wants them to be. In some cases He confronts them quite bluntly and rebukes them forcefully and says – you need to sort this out – I will not tolerate my bride, my people behaving so unfaithfully.
In almost every church that Jesus writes to, there is a mixture of good and bad. There’s things they are doing really well at, and there’s areas where they need to improve.
Every church is like that. There’s some things they’re really good at here, and then there’s other areas where they need some work. As someone said: "There’s no such thing as a perfect church, and if you find one, don’t join it, because you’ll ruin it."
So many people today church hop – they move from church to church to church. They stay in one place for a while, maybe 6 months, until they notice the flaws there, someone upsets them, or they don’t get the recognition or position they want, and so they move on somewhere else which, may not have those particular flaws, but which they soon find 3 months later, have a whole other set of problems.
So maybe they leave one church because they don’t like the music there. And so they go somewhere else where they love the music. But after a few months they realise they don’t like the preaching there, and so they move again, somewhere where they like the music and the preaching. But after a few months they find that it’s as friendly as they would like a church to be, and so they move again, ever in search of this perfect church.
In pretty much every letter, at least once, Jesus says this: “I know your deeds…” (2:2) (2:9) (2: 13-14) (2: 19-20) (3:1) (3:8) (3:15)
Jesus intimately knows His church, He knows you, He knows me - better than we know ourselves. That’s scary, but it’s also incredible. Because Jesus still loves us, He is passionate His church, he calls us His own in spite of all our imperfections and flaws.
The church was His idea, He founded it, He is the head, and He expects His people – those who call themselves Christians - to be part of the church and pour their lives into serving in the church and serving the world through the church. In our individualistic culture we need to hear this. Jesus doesn’t write these letters to individual Christians – He writes to churches. Later in the book, Jesus doesn’t return for a whole load of individual Christians – He returns for His bride, the church.
That’s why I often say to people - I don’t care where you worship, but get planted somewhere. Find a church and stay there and get involved and serve and give and love and be part of that community. Just as only when a tree is planted in one place it will grow best, only when a Christian is planted in one place will they grow.