Text: Revelation 2: 8-17
OT Text: I Peter 4:17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?
Featured Verse: Rev 2:16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
Main Idea: Jesus brings correction to wayward churches to restore them to faithfulness.
After a flurry of activity to get acquainted with the book, I hope to see the daily devotionals settle into a shorter and more approachable length. Today we will look at two more of the churches in Asia Minor. If you have not yet looked at the chart for the "Seven Churches of Revelation", you will find it below. It is a helpful tool to quickly see the patterns which are present across the addresses to each of the seven churches in the book.
Yesterday we saw that the addresses to the seven churches follow a pattern. This is easily visible in the chart attached above. One of the features of this pattern didn't make an impression on me until I was involved in this current study. I failed to make the connection between the opening vision of chapter 1 and the address to the churches in chapters 2-3. In particular, each of the addresses starts with a description of Jesus. But the description in each of the seven addresses is drawn from the opening vision of chapter 1. In other words, after showing a general picture of the ministry of Jesus - present in the midst of the lampstands, John highlights a particular aspect of the ministry of Jesus which is important to each church.
The church in Smyrna is regarding as being faithful, but they are going to face a coming trial (v.10, "for ten days you will face tribulation.") These people are facing persecution which could even result in death (v.10b), so it is important for them to be reminded that Jesus is the one "who died and came to life." The corresponding promise also applies to this. Jesus promises that for the ones who are "faithful unto death... I will give you the crown of life. (v.2:11.)"
By contrast, the church in Pergamum is not as faithful. There is a mixed record. Consequently, the picture of Jesus is one suited to correction. He is shown as having a "sharp two-edged sword" in his mouth (1:16,2:12.) This is a symbolic way of saying that Jesus will speak words which bring discipline and correction. Pergamum started well, but was being seduced into error. They had been steadfast in past persecution (v.2:13), but now are being led astray by false teaching, which is called "the teaching of Balaam."
This is a reference to the experience of Israel in the wilderness (Numbers 23-25.) The king of Moab had been frightened of the Israelites so he hired a prophet to curse Israel. This prophet, Balaam, was unable to attack Israel through this direct spiritual attack. God made it clear his intention was for spiritual blessing. So, Balaam taught the Moabite king to come at the problem in a different way. He counseled a path of sensual corruption rather than direct power encounter. He showed the king (Nu 31:16) how to lure the people into idolatry and its accompanying sexual practices (Nu 25.) What he could not accomplish through direct power encounter, was achieved through seductive temptation. In the OT account, God brought severe judgment on the people of Israel because they "yoked themselves" to a foreign God through their idolatry (Nu 25:5.) In a similar manner, Jesus threatens to war against the church in Pergamum if they do not repent (v.1:16.)
Conclusion and Application
From this we learn that God takes it seriously when we turn from him and "yoke ourselves" to a rival spiritual power. He does for our good - to bring us back to himself. He does this for the good of his church - to limit the damage to the rest of the church. He does this for his own glory - so that his character will not be misrepresented by his followers in their witness to the world. But this brings up an uncomfortable truth. Being part of the church means that we are subject to discipline from God. For all of the good reasons listed above, "judgment begins with the house of God." We learn from this that we have more to fear from temptation than from direct spiritual attack. It was not attacks of Satan or even the death of a disciple which are the great causes of concern. Rather, it is the alluring temptation to compromise - especially in ways that align with the surrounding culture and its sexual immorality.
We learn from this that there is a healthy fear that comes from belonging to Jesus. The same Jesus who stands in the midst of the lampstands for support, warns his church of the proximity of discipline. His presence brings both comfort and appropriate concern for faithfulness. At the end of the day the encouragement is for those who repent. They are promised the blessing of God ("hidden manna.") Surely this is far greater than anything offered by the sexually immoral idolatry which was creeping into their congregation.
In what ways are you being tempted to compromise?
How does it help to know Jesus brings correction, but also offers the comfort of being known and cared for (v.2:17.)
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Matt Koerber (unless otherwise noted). Because this devotional links so closely with the sermon series, the preacher for a given week will also write the daily devotionals.
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