Text Rev. 1-3 (Ps 40)
Observe An angelic being (angelos = messenger, watcher) reveals a series of visions to the exiled apostle John, which he must record. (1:1)
With beatitudes for those who hear and keep what is written (1:3), John greets the churches, speaking of him who was and is and is to come (1:5), Jesus, loving His church, made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father (1:6). John, in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day (1:10) tries to describe his vision of Jesus glorified. John falls as dead, but Jesus, the messenger, revives him. Jesus holds the keys to Death and Hades (18b). John must write to the angels of seven churches in Asia Minor (modern Turkey[LM1] )
We read his letters to the angel of the church in (city). God has appointed an angel (seven stars) to guard each church. (1:20; 2,3)
Interpret “Squeeze John and you get the Old Testament,” says a writer. Revelation is full of hyperlinks and John often repurposes Hebrew Bible references. Numbers are significant in apocalyptic writing: seven symbolizes perfection or completion (watch for it!). Other symbols in these chapters:
Lampstands (1:12,20) with seven branches, (recalling the constantly burning menorahs in the Temple), are the seven Asian churches, lights in the surrounding darkness. John sees Christ walking among the churches. Daniel 7 speaks of the ‘son of man’; here, One like a son of man (1:13) moves in the midst of the lampstands (2:1); Christ is the centre of worship in His church.
Sash (1:13): worn around the waist, a priest readies for battle; around the chest, a king reigns on His throne. Priest, King… and Ancient of Days.
Stars (1:16, 20): the angels of the seven churches[LM2] . Jesus holds them in His right hand as they guard the churches.
Keys: denoting authority. Jesus’ possession of ‘keys to death and Hades’ shows his authority over these fearful things. Hades/Sheol were not places but
Structure of the letters (2, 3): Each begins with, “To the angel…”; includes an image/symbol taken from chapter one; “I know your works…”, a commendation or criticism; what God will do; His promised reward to the faithful; each ends with, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Lord says to the churches.”
These churches were not the only ones in Asia, but characterize the church in the named city. (the words “Church” or “churches” occur 19 times in chapters 1-3, but not after chapter 4-end.)
Ephesus: the mega-church. Rich, comfortable -- spiritually cold. No repentance? Their lampstand will be removed. (There is no church there today.) But the victorious will eat of the tree of life in paradise.
Smyrna: the persecuted church. No rebuke. Poor, slandered, but loved and encouraged by Jesus as He tells them they will suffer. Faithfulness will win them the crown of life, the ‘second death’ will not touch them. (Modern Izmir, Turkey, with an estimated 70,000 Christians.)
Pergamum: the impure church. The ‘Nicolaitans’ (nikos = victory; laos = people), a pagan sect, promoted idolatry and immorality; many in the church fell for this. God will use His double-edged sword if there is no repentance, but for the few faithful, a white stone gives them entry into God’s life.
Thyatira: the compromised church. Longest letter. Noted for textile and purple dye industries (Phoebe in Acts 16, from Thyatira, dealt in these). ‘Jezebel’, a false prophetess, blended worship of Baal and Yahweh, encouraged sexual immorality. To those struggling to flee the deep things of Satan with its attractions of power and occult knowledge, Jesus says, Hold fast what you have until I come. The morning star, bright light emerging from darkness, is theirs.
Sardis: the dying church. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead, a horrifying indictment of the institutional church. Unless they wake up, Jesus will come like a thief in the night (Mt ). The few faithful will wear white garments, their names etched in the book of life.
Philadelphia: the steadfast church. No rebuke for this small church; the rewards for its faithfulness are many. The open door recalls Jesus as Good Shepherd, His sheep free to go in and out while He keeps them safe from predators (Roman empire). He has the key of David and gives them this sign of His power and authority.
Laodicea: the self-deceived church. (laos = people; diké = justice) Lukewarm, robbed of their love, passion, zeal for God by the culture. If no repentance, He will spit them out of his mouth. Jesus stands at the door and knocks, wanting to be let in, as if He has lost His authority! Because they don’t need Him, ironically, they’ve switched positions; Jesus is outside, they’re in. Their self-sufficiency (and lack of self-knowledge) is historically true: a massive earthquake in 60 AD destroyed the city but Laodicea refused help even from the Emperor. Jesus warns for conviction, not condemnation. He loves them!
Apply A challenge: Removing 21st century blinders while thinking 1st century! The many symbols are rich, dazzling, puzzling, codes for early Christians under state/Satanic persecution. So we ask: Who was this letter for? Why? What was their understanding at the time? How does this relate to the Hebrew Bible? Instead of speculation, let’s look, look, look until we see that Revelation (and the entire Bible) unveils Jesus, faithful Witness, Redeemer and Saviour.
The struggle is ongoing: divisions, self-centredness, complacency, resisting authority, immorality, syncretism, apathy, hard hearts, indifference, pride, coldness/lukewarmness … has anything changed? In our humbly accepting correction, holding fast to what God has given, repenting (often!), hearing and heeding His commands, Christ of the lampstands and the two-edged sword walks among us. Centred in His light and truth, we love Him above all else, love one another. We look forward with joy to His return, taking His promises, rebukes and affirmations to heart. He loves us!
Ask Which church do we resemble? Suffering Smyrna/Izmir? Steadfast Philadelphia? Lord, would You help us read, hear, and take to heart this word? So we don’t become complacent or lukewarm, would You strengthen us to hold fast to You?
Pray: Jesus, give us ears to hear what You say to our church, obedience to carry out Your commands, and Philadelphian steadfastness to resist this noisy culture. Come, Lord Jesus!
Sing Guy Penrod Revelation Song https://youtu.be/A3IUqz10ARE
Ps. 40: Steve Angrisano Here am I Lord https://youtu.be/p1EI3hojkYY Ps. 40: Choir of Liverpool Cathedral https://youtu.be/wmfAyXG_eVk
Ps. 40 (A New Song): New Hope Oahu https://youtu.be/oDXMZEgDhNo
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.