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Revelation 2, 3: are the epistles of Jesus to the seven churches relevant to us?

After the gospels and with the exception of some very small passages in Acts and the epistles, it is in Revelation where we find Jesus speaking again in the first person. Chapters 2 and 3 contain letters that were sent to seven churches in Minor Asia. Jesus directly dictated these letters to the apostle John, commanding him to write them down, and send them to these churches, together with the whole book. It is surprising however how little attention these epistles of Jesus receive. Similar to the theory that essentially puts aside the gospels by classifying them as not relevant to us, one theory put forward is that these epistles of Jesus, together with the book of Revelation as a whole, do not really refer to us. Instead they refer – according to this theory - to some future believers and they are going to understand the book of Revelation, implicitly meaning that we can safely ignore this book or consider it as something "just for our information". Concerning the seven churches, these are, so the theory goes, future churches and to them these letters refer1. However, these churches were real churches when John wrote the letters, exactly as there was a real church in Corinth to which Paul addressed his letter. In fact, some of these churches, such as the church of Ephesus and Laodicea, we can find in Paul’s letters as well. Truly, the whole argument of these epistles not really referring to believers living under the age of grace breaks down if we see what Jesus Himself ordered John to do with the message he was about to receive. This is given in no unclear terms in Revelation 1:11

Revelation 1:11
"Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea."

So guess what John did? He wrote it and sent it right away to the seven churches mentioned. Therefore, the letters of Jesus to these churches refer to Christian believers in these churches and they are as much relevant to us, as the letters of Paul sent for example to believers in the church of Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia etc.

One of the reasons why some people haste to put these letters ín the pretty big box they have with the name "not relevant to us" is because they essentially do not like what Jesus says. They see Jesus saying for example: "I know your works" (Revelation 2:2), "repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent" (Revelation 2:5) etc. and they realize that such and similar – "harsh" according to them – sayings do not reconcile with what they believe as the gospel and their image of Jesus. Therefore, ways have to be devised to avoid it as much as possible. And the way which many find is to consider these letters and Revelation in general as mainly referring to future believers that will be living in those days. The truth however is that they are as relevant to us as the epistles of the apostles: both kinds of epistles were written for real churches and real believers of that time and therefore both refer by extension also to us.

Going now to the epistles themselves, we see there that the way Jesus is looking at each church (and the church is not a building but people) is like a coach who cares about his athletes who are running a race or fighting a fight. So you will see that the feedback to these churches is different in each case. A couple of them are faring well. They should keep up like this. But the rest of them are having problems. The Lord does not tell them "you know it is OK.. I have paid the price so that you do not have to do anything." Instead what He does is after telling them their good points (this He did to all except to the church of Laodicea) He passes on to the criticism He has for them. In four out of the seven churches He tells them "Repent", change course! In fact He does not tell them just "Repent" but "Repent or else..". Here are some:

Revelation 2:5
"Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent."

Revelation 2:15-16
"Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth."

Revelation 3:2-3
"Be watchful …. hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you."

Some cannot comprehend that their Jesus would have ever spoken like this to churches. But dear brothers the Bible shows us Jesus from various angles and one of them is in Revelation 1:11-18:

Revelation 1:11-18
"Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea." Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades."

Does our view or image of Jesus has space for the above picture also or is Jesus for us just a sweet little blond young man with blue eyes that would not touch a fly?

To go back to our original question: do the epistles of Jesus to the seven churches refer to us too by extension, exactly as the epistles of Paul to the Galatians or the Corinthians refer also to us by extension? The answer is yes they do. All were supposed to be read and be acted upon by their respective listeners. And if we have an ear –as we should – for the epistles of the apostles to the churches, so also we should have an ear for the epistles of the apostles’ Master to the churches.

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Revelation 2 and 3).

 


Footnotes

1. Of course there are many other theories concerning the meaning of the book of Revelation, almost all of which are missing the relevancy of the epistles to the seven churches (this is the focus of this appendix) and they treat them not as real epistles addressed to real people in real churches but as something either metaphoric or past, with not present application, or future with also no present application.

 

Author: Anastasios Kioulachoglou