The Seven Churches: An Introduction
The Seven Churches: An Introduction
I want to start out this series with a pretty intense statement that hopefully will ring true with your heart by the end of the series: The letters to the seven churches are perhaps some of the most “forgotten” passages in the entire book of Revelation.
In a day when even unbelievers are becoming more and more interested in what the Bible has to say about the future, discussion between various camps in studying the book of Revelation always tends to revolve around passages like Revelation 20 (the 1000-year reign of Jesus), Revelation 4:1 (“come up here”), Revelation 6:1 (the first seal), or Revelation 12 (the symbolism of the woman and the dragon). These passages and others are rightfully discussed and debated more than these letters to the seven churches, simply because of the various systems of eschatological thought that have developed in the last 2000 years since the book’s writing in 96AD.
In the limelight of these passages lies Revelation 2-3. Despite their lack of emphasis across the body of Christ today, there is much in the New Testament surrounding the issues Jesus raised in Revelation 2 and 3 – from fervency and wholeheartedness, reigning with Christ, and the first commandment to the toleration of immorality and a dull spirit.
An initial reading these passages often shows our disconnectedness from the spiritual issues and rewards Jesus brings up because we see the letters as dry and boring or inapplicable to us today. Common questions might be “why would I care about receiving a white stone with my name on it?” or “why would I want some of the ‘hidden manna’ to eat?” My own lack of understanding tells me that there is a depth in these passages that is to be plummeted by the hungry.
Fully understanding the messages to the seven churches goes far beyond the application to the believers alive at the time of John’s writing. While Jesus did give John seven messages of seven specific issues that the churches passages of preparation for the hearers, inquirers, and those who will actually experience chapters 4 through 22. They are strategically placed in the “prayer manual” for us at the end of the age so that we would take them to heart and pursue the rewards Jesus will give for overcoming. We must not fall into the trap of reading them casually to get to the “good stuff” in the rest of Revelation or just believe that they were only applicable to the original churches. As with any prophetic word, the promises of overcoming are not exclusive but inclusive to those who would pursue them in hunger. Each letter was carefully thought out and crafted by the Son of God Himself, and then given to both a literal church alive during the first century as well as to anyone in any age reading the text who would have an ear to what the Spirit is saying. How can we be sure? Jesus opens up His heart to give the mentioned rewards to any overcomer because He repeats this key phrase seven times:
“He who has an ear, let Him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
There is no guarantee that believers will automatically inherit the promises Jesus gives to "overcomers", or those who would walk out the invitation to conquer the obstacles He mentioned that are set before them. Jesus gives all believers the invitation to overcome, but He implied in each letter that not all believers would actually overcome. The Son of God Himself gave us these letters as motivation for diligence in holiness and righteousness, fully knowing that we need divine assistance for the journey.
For this reason we must study these letters diligently and allow them to get into our heart language and dialogue with God. Study of them separated from prayer leads us into self-deception – we deceive ourselves into thinking we have a living understanding of the words because we have ascended mentally and can easily quote the meaning of the text. As you approach these passages in a devotional way, ask the Lord to make these promises real and ask Him for hearing ears and power to overcome the same obstacles that continue to plague the human heart today, especially as we approach the coming of Christ and the events prophesied in the following chapters of Revelation.
So my heart's desire in doing this series is to first help me understand these passages better (yes, sanctified selfishness!) and then to provoke you to study and dialogue with God over them so that we can all stand before Him and receive the rewards of the overcomer. I hope you stick around for the rest of the series!
Next up in the series: Revelation 2:1-7, The Church of Ephesus