Tuesday, October 18, 2016

18 October 2016

Good afternoon, welcome. For the next couple weeks we will be looking at Revelation Chs.2 and 3; the messages to the seven churches. My plan is to consider each message separately, then spend a couple days tying them together. I am taking the point of view that these letters were written to actual historical churches and the situations addressed, while specific to those churches, are also representative of the church universal throughout the ages as well as the lives of individual believers. As such, our Lord’s commendations and condemnations are universal and timeless.

John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
(1:4-6; NRSV)
A quick qualifier before we begin. This is the revelation of, to, and about Jesus Christ-given by God the Father to Him, about Him, to be passed on by Him to John and then to us. He loves us always; He has washed us and freed us from the power of sin for a specific purpose-to demonstrate His Kingdom and mediate His presence to the world. These messages are, in a sense, His critique of how well the seven churches are accomplishing His purpose. This is the lens through which I believe these messages should be read. Each message contains a description of Jesus, a commendation or condemnation or both, and a promise for those who persevere.

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: (2:1; NRSV)
The first message is to the church at Ephesus. Ephesus was a major city in the Roman world. Paul spent two years there; John was also associated with the church there. The city was home to the temple of the Greek goddess Artemis. That temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and generated a lot of revenue; Acts 19:21-41 describes a riot initiated by a silversmith who was losing money because “…not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods.” (Acts 19:26; NRSV).

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; 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. Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God. (2-7; NRSV)
The Ephesian church evidently had sound doctrine-for the most part-but had lost its first love. Paul had warned them false teachers would come (Acts 20:29-30). The church would now be in its second generation. These false teachers-perhaps the Nicolaitans- may have caused severe infighting and division within the church, resulting in a hardness of heart from which they could not recover. The Nicolaitans will show up again in the message to Pergamum. They seem to have advocated some sort of compromise with the followers of Artemis-and the associated trade unions-that would have allowed the church to peacefully coexist with the surrounding pagan culture. The Nicolaitans could also have been church leaders who had assumed authority they did not have and had attempted to impose their will on the church; something like the situation with Diotrephes in 3 John. Or both. In any case it is easy to see how the Ephesian church could have devolved into the cold, divisive legalism that makes love difficult. Jesus’ words are clear-repent and return. This is not an either/or situation-sound doctrine must be accompanied by love. As Bruce Metzger writes “The presence of Christ departs when well intentioned people, zealous to fight the right way, depart from the ultimate way, which is
The message begins with Jesus walking among His churches and ends with the promise of the tree of life in paradise with God. Actually, Jesus isn’t just walking among His churches, He is holding them in His right hand-a place of power and protection. Today it is all too easy to forget to whom the church belongs. It is also easy to forget to whom we belong.
Jesus’ promise leads to our final thought. At some point history will end. Faithful believers will enter eternity with God-we will all eat from the tree denied Adam after the fall. At this particular point in time, in this country especially, love seems to be losing ground to fear, anger, and hatred. This situation may get worse but it will not last forever. Now might be a good time to consider what these seven letters might mean in terms of our own personal eternal destiny. We will certainly be doing something in paradise with God; I suspect that something is being determined by what we are doing in the here and now for God. Or rather, what we are allowing God to do in us and through us. Jesus begins His messages with the admonition to return to our first love. Jesus-first chronologically, first in priority, first in all things.

Let the church say “Amen. Come Lord Jesus.” JRG  

[1] Metzger, Bruce. (1993). Breaking the Code Understanding the Book of Revelation. Nashville. Abingdon Press. P.32.

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