Basic Facts from… The REVELATION (Part 4)

Basic Facts from… The REVELATION (Part 4)

“Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.” (Revelation 1:19)

The instruction at the end of chapter 1 sets the context of the vision in vv. 10-20 and previews the rest of the Lord’s message to the churches in chapters 2 and 3 – “…things which you have seen, …which are, and…after this.” By the time John writes what he is told, the vision of chapter 1 is “in the past” (he had already seen it); the things which “are” (present tense) speaks to the content of the “letters” that follow in chapters 2 and 3; and the things “after” (future tense) will be addressed in chapters 4-22. Remember that the seven churches are generally understood to represent the whole church (all congregations): They also reveal the whole “spectrum” of congregational conditions, from strong and healthy to weak and dying.

“The Things Which Are” could be the subtitle of Revelation 2-3, and the seven epistles found here share four common characteristics:

1. All are dictated by the Lord.

2. All are addressed to the “angel” of the (particular) church.

3. All have titles drawn from the visions of chapter one.

4. All share basically the same outline:

  • Salutation by the Lord
  • A description of Himself
  • A commendation
  • A condemnation
  • An appeal and a warning
  • An exhortation
  • A promise

As we survey the “letters” to these churches, notice that two received no significant rebuke from the Lord, even though they existed in difficult circumstances and faced hard challenges (Smyrna & Philadelphia). For the congregations at Sardis & Laodicea, however, the Lord had basically no words of praise for their works or faithfulness (although He does note the faithfulness of “a few” at Sardis). The other three churches (Ephesus, Pergamos, & Thyatira) were commended by the Lord for the good qualities they possessed but were also warned about present weaknesses and dangers that held the potential to separate them from Him if they did not repent.

Not much is known about most of these congregations; the church at Thyatira seems to have begun in Acts 16 with the conversion of Lydia, and Acts 18 & 19 indicates that Paul established the congregation in Ephesus, and eventually stayed there with them for more than two years (Acts 19:8-10). There is no biblical record of how the other five congregations began, although some of the people present on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 were originally from the region of Asia Minor where they were located.

In these letters, Jesus addressed these churches as separate, autonomous congregations. He commended all that were worthy and condemned everything unworthy,and this is an illustration of Divine justice (rendering to every man “according to his works”). Notice that every promise given was conditional (“to him that overcometh”). It is true that Christians are “kept” by the power of God, but that keeping is also conditioned on our faith (1 Peter 1:3-5) – if our faith fails and we become unfaithful, it is we who “fall short” of God’s promises (James 2:14 & 26) and His “glory” (Romans 3:23).

In each letter, Jesus emphasizes His authority in the instructions and corrections He prescribes, and the Lord likewise impressed on each of them the importance of paying careful attention to His message (“Let him that hath an ear hear [pay attention to] what the Spirit saith to the churches”). Our salvation depends on our willingness to follow where the Spirit of God leads, in His word (Romans 8:14).


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