What makes the seven letters to the churches special is that they were dictated by the Lord Jesus Himself. It was a privilege to preach through all seven letters from October 27-December 8, 2019. What I have attempted to do here is not a formal exposition of the text. I have tried to simply summarize the text, its theology, and its application as an aid to study and meditation. I pray that you, dear reader, find it helpful as you ponder the text.
The seven letters to the churches in Asia Minor that are included within the book of Revelation were dictated to the apostle John by the Lord Jesus Himself. These letters demonstrate that every church is in immediate danger from one of two sources. Each individual local church is either in danger from the world or from the Lord. Significantly, only two churches out of the seven are in danger from the world. The other five progress from better to worse, beginning with the Ephesian church, who maintained doctrinal soundness but had lost their love for the Lord and one another, and culminating with the Laodicean church, which was completely apostate. Yet the Lord Jesus compassionately calls the individuals in these churches to hear the words of these letters and repent.
Jesus also speaks to the regenerate individuals within each church, promising that if they persevere steadfast in the faith, He will grant to them incomparable promises. These promises are true for every believer. The Holy Spirit saw fit to preserve the Revelation for us to read and study today, so as we study the letters to the churches, we learn the will of the Lord Jesus Christ for the churches. Each of these letters has application for us. I don’t know that it is beneficial to try to identify ourselves with any single church, although I might concede that we should aim to be faithful like Smyrna and Philadelphia. Many have seen the parallels between the culture of the church today and Laodicea, yet parallels can be drawn between the church culture today and each of the first-century churches in Asia Minor. Thus, we need to study and apply each of these letters.
The seven letters are ordered according to the postal route. The letters would have been taken from the isle of Patmos, where John had been exiled to, and would have gone to each city along that postal route in Asia Minor, starting with Ephesus and ending with Laodicea. Each church had its own unique historical situation in its own unique historical setting. Rather than spend the time in this short review commenting on the circumstances of each of these churches, I have included comments about the historical background only where it seems necessary to understand the text. For those readers who desire more information about the historical background for each church, I refer you to the bibliography at the end of this paper.
A word about the structure of the letters is necessary. Each letter begins with an introduction of the sender, the Lord Jesus. The descriptions of the Lord are mostly drawn from the vision of the previous chapter. Each description is custom-fitted to suit the situation of the particular church in view. After the introduction, there normally follows a word of commendation, making an emphatic point when there is no commendation for the church. Third, a word of critique follows for all but the two faithful churches. This is followed by a warning of judgment and exhortation to repent or remain faithful. The letters close with a word of promise and an exhortation that believers heed the words of the letter.
TO THE CHURCH OF EPHESUS: REKINDLE YOUR LOVE
Revelation 2:1 - “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:
Summary: Jesus tells the apostle John to write to the messenger (αγγελος here refers to the human messenger to the church, probably referring to the teaching pastor) of the church in Ephesus that this letter is from the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand and who walks among the seven golden lampstands, symbolic of Christ holding the seven pastors in His hand and His presence among and tending of the seven churches (cf. Rev 1:20).
Theology: Jesus is the One who holds the pastor-teachers of each church in His hand, having authority over them, and who walks among the churches, tending them as their Great Shepherd.
Application: We can rejoice, because Jesus cares for His churches and for their leadership. Knowing that He is among us, we should be ever careful to walk in a manner that pleases Him. Pastors should be ever mindful that they are in His right hand, subject both to His blessing and His judgment.
Revelation 2:2 – “‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;”
Summary: Jesus comforts the Ephesian church with His intimate knowledge of their deeds, toil, and perseverance. He knows their intolerance of evil men, putting them to the test and finding false their self-proclaimed apostleship.
Theology: Jesus knows the deeds of His churches, and He is pleased when they deal with false teachers.
Application: May our deeds and toil and perseverance be evident in the sight of the Lord Jesus, and may He find that we love the truth and are intolerant of those who preach error.
Revelation 2:3 – “and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.”
Summary: Jesus continues his comfort of the Ephesian church with a word concerning His knowledge of their tireless perseverance and endurance for His name’s sake.
Theology: Jesus knows what His churches endure for His name’s sake, and He is pleased when they do so tirelessly.
Application: Let us endure all things for His name’s sake, not growing weary but strong in the faith.
Revelation 2:4 – “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”
Summary: Jesus moves from commendation to critique of the Ephesian church, telling them that He holds it against them that they had left their first love.
Theology: Jesus desires His churches to grow in love, and He is displeased when their love grows cold.
Application: May we excel evermore in our love for the Lord and for one another.
Revelation 2:5 – “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.”
Summary: Since they had lost their first love, Jesus exhorts the Ephesian church to remember the love that they had at first, repent of their lovelessness, and begin doing the deeds that demonstrate the presence of their first love. He goes on to warn them that He will remove their lampstand, effectively closing the church, if they do not repent.
Theology: Jesus will close a church due to an unrepentant lack of love.
Application: Let us grow in our love, performing the deeds that are indicative of true Christian love.
Revelation 2:6 – “Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”
Summary: Jesus again commends the Ephesian church for their hatred of false teaching, naming the Nicolaitans, who were leading the churches into idolatry and immorality through their doctrine (cf. Rev 2:14-15).
Theology: Jesus hates false teaching and the deeds that result from it.
Application: We also should hate false teaching and the deeds that result from it, and we should seek to carefully pluck believers out of the influence of false teaching.
Revelation 2:7 – “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’”
Summary: Jesus exhorts all those who have spiritual ears to hear what the Spirit is telling the churches in this letter. He promises that the one who remains faithful to the end despite the temptation toward loveless orthodoxy will partake with all believers of the tree of life in the Paradise of God.
Theology: Jesus will grant believers to eat of the tree of life in the Paradise of God.
Application: Let us regard this message from the Holy Spirit and remain faithful to the end so that we may join all believers in partaking of the tree of life in God’s Paradise.