Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Message to the Churches in Revelation

Get Up and Get in to the Game:
The Message to the Churches in Revelation

Revelation Chapters 2 and 3 may be the most important passages to post-modern Christians in the 21st century. Our human tendency to take this important book and chart it or plot it or over cook it which usually leads to confusion and ineffective application.

I claim no hidden or special expertise here- I am simply a reader. But the word “Revelation” means to “move the veil”. It is God’s unveiling of the “right now”.

So I challenge you to read, reflect, and ask yourself deep probing questions. Then statistically, 72% of us need to do some serious repenting.

Jesus asked the question in Luke 18:8 “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” I have always been intrigued by that question.

There are both specific messages and general messages in Revelation 2 and 3. These were actual letters to actual churches. Each letter had a specific exhortation based on current circumstances.

But there is also ample rationale to see a bigger picture here. Why limit the number to 7? There were more than seven active churches in Asia Minor at the time. Seven is a symbolic number in this apocalyptic book, so it hints to a symbolic representation as well as actual, specific places. And each letter contains a loaded Biblical phrase, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. “ The letter is to one specific church, but the fact that we are encouraged to have ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches (plural) gives clear encouragement to study, learn, and apply these situations personally.

So what do we learn from Christ’s message to His churches?

I Christ is present, active, and extremely interested in the local church. The introduction in Chapter 1 shows a glorified Jesus in the midst of the lamp stands, which are the churches. He is represented in personifications that will be attached to the different churches. Jesus sees, He knows, He is acquainted- He desires holiness and faithfulness to Him. There is a universal, invisible, and triumphant church that will be the over comers, but Jesus is intimately walking and present in the visible church as well. The local church, its ministry and mission, is subject to the Lord.

II For the most part, the church is in a mess. Please don’t ever get caught up in wishing the church could be glorious like the old days. From the 1st century on, the visible expression of God’s kingdom is chaotic and messy. But that is the nature of war on the battlefront. In Chapter 4 of Revelation, there is a scene change to the Throne. All is at peace there. D-day has already happened. These are the final battles that inevitably will determine V-day. Church splits, embattled pastors, compromise, idolatry, misguided distractions, ineffective blustering, flame outs – is just par for the course. Of the 7 churches only 2 are found to be not requiring repentance, and those two are on life support with the Lord coaching them to hang in there.

Ephesus- great doctrine - no love
Smyrna- faithful- but poor and facing unrelenting attack
Pergamum- manipulative rationalization and compromise
Thyratira- idolatry and compromise
Sardis- social acceptance without any meaningful ministry
Philadelphia- faithful and steady- not out of the woods yet
Laodicea- Materialistic- nauseating lack of effectiveness

I noticed, though, that in each case, the struggling churches were sick, but not dead. It was a mixed bag. Some of the sin in each church was threatening its extinction, but none had been removed. Jesus is even patient with Jezebel- “I gave her time to repent”.

In many of these sick churches, there are faithful individuals. The encouragement is to them. Stick with it- I know it is hard- stay the course- Winners (conquerors) get to eat of the tree of life, will not get hurt in the 2nd death, get to eat heavenly food and is given a special name, will rule with authority, will get the morning star, will be cleansed and secure in the book of life, will receive a crown, will have a place in the new city, will sit on the throne.

With this in mind there are some applications:

For me:
I need to repent- I am materialistic, unfaithful, I have a lack of zeal, unloving, prideful, lured by sexual immorality, I compromise and shrink in cowardice, I quit too easily, I am relegated to ineffectiveness by my worldliness.

Oh Lord, break me- I am afraid to even voice that prayer- but I don’t want to be lost in this stinking and dying world, do what you need to make me effective and faithful.

I need to stand. I need to be a faithful and true witness. It means being unpopular at times and getting hammered by culture, I have not experienced much of this – but it will be coming. I need to persevere in the truth.

I need to serve my local church and seek to see her as “Philadelphia”.

For my church:

We have to stop measuring success by the world’s standards. The large, rich churches with great reputations may not be what they appear.

The great church- does not worry about status.
The great church- takes seriously God’s word
The great church- keeps God’s word
The great church- does not deny Christ when the pressure is on
The great church- patiently perseveres in hard times
The great church- is steady and true- faithful to the King
The great church- is loved by Christ

Oh Lord, make my church a Philadelphia. Let it start with me.

While we have time- let’s keep serving our King- He is coming soon.

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