Text: Rev 2:1-7
Parallel Text: Hebrews 12:5-7
Featured Verse: Rev 2:3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first."
Main Idea: Like the other prophets before him, John brings a corrective word from God to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Nearly 20 centuries later, we are in need of the same thing.
Through John, Jesus brings an address for seven churches in Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey. These cities are all real places that existed in the first century and everything about the letter indicates that this is intended to be a prophetic word of correction and rebuke for each of these churches. The number seven is a biblical number of completion and is used figuratively throughout the book. It may be that John chose to list seven churches because there are representative of other churches and this was a way to show the totality of Jesus interactions with the first century church. As we have already said, one of the important ways that we ground our interpretation of Revelation is to recognize that the letter is addressed to actual people and interacts with their specific situation.
And what does Jesus say to the churches in Asia Minor? He brings encouragement and correction. This is not a surprise, because nearly every prophetic word in the Bible includes some combination of encouragement and correction. Jesus is speaking the truth in love (Eph 5:18) to the church for their good and for their growth. We see a pattern that Jesus acknowledges something specific about how they are doing. [At the end, I have attached a chart that shows the way this pattern plays out through all seven churches.]
First, there is commendation (what they have done well.) Second, there is a critique (where they need to improve.) Then he gives a promise (“to the one who overcomes”) and in many cases he offers a warning, (“if have this against you”, so “if you don’t stop this will happen.”) As we move through the addresses to the seven churches, we want to keep the big picture in mind. Ask yourself:
What does Jesus get concerned about here?
What are his priorities?
How can I learn from these rebukes and be encouraged by these promises?
In his first address, to the church in Ephesus, John brings a commendation about their positive regard to doctrine. They have rejected false teachers. (2:2.) The critique is that their hearts don't seem to be in it anymore. They "abandoned the love they had at first." (2:4) I think that this word of warning is particularly relevant for conservative Presbyterians. People in our circle are inclined to spend a lot of time on doctrine, and give a lot of focus toward orthodox teaching - as we should. But Jesus told the Ephesian church that he was concerned about their affections.
Do you love Jesus as passionately as you have at the early phases of your Christian journey?
Do you love him as you should?
As he deserves?
Fortunately, we are not left to generate this affection out of the thin air. Love, itself, is a fruit of the Spirit. (Gal 5) Renewed faith in Christ naturally stirs up our emotions. We are drawn to love Jesus as our vision of his beauty is refreshed. The entire book of Revelation will work toward that purpose. Emersion in God's word is a powerful tool toward regaining the "love we had at first."
In this particular case, Jesus calls the Ephesian church to remember and repent (v.5.) But he grounds this in the visionary promise. Jesus "holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands" (v.2.1.) He is with us, holding us close. Jesus also holds before the church the vision of future restoration which will form such an important part of the book as it reaches its conclusion. The promise for those who remain faithful and "conquer" is that they will "eat from the tree of life in the paradise of God" (2:7.) We will see how this promise is shown to be fulfilled in the New Heavens and the New Earth (22:2.)
Hebrews 12:5-7 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons.