To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. Revelation 1:4-6 (NIV)
Revelation is a book that many shy away from, particularly as it is prophecy and the imagery used can sometimes be difficult to understand. Despite this, Revelation contains much that will challenge our thinking and much that should cause us to reflect on how we live our lives in Christ. One of these areas is what is contained in Revelation 2-3 as praise and admonishments to the seven churches. In most instances, John addresses both the positives and the negatives in the life of the churches. We all like to hear praise, but are we ready for God to point out our weaknesses to us?
It would be very easy to think that what is said is so particular to each church that was the focus of the ‘letter’ (which it is), and to ignore the implications for us as Christians and every church (the general principles that would apply to all Christians and churches everywhere). Why should we bother to study this? Using the words of John:
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Revelation 2:7 (NIV)
Interestingly the phrase ‘Whoever has ears, let them hear …’ occurs only 14 times in the New Testament, with 8 of those instances in Revelation. After each of the ‘letters’ to the seven churches it appears as the full phrase (as in Revelation 2:7 above). So John saw the application of each ‘letter’ to the wider Christian community. There are lessons to learn for us as individuals and churches.
Over the next two weeks we will look at each of the seven churches that were written to in Revelation 2-3. In preparation, I would encourage you to do two things:
- read Revelation 1, noting that Jesus takes a central role and that the imagery used for the churches is ‘seven golden lampstands’ (this will appear later in chapters 2-3);
- ask God that your heart will be receptive to hear what he has to say and how it might apply to you and your church.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Revelation 1:17-18 (NIV)
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