Purpose of Revelation:
For many, including me, Revelation is a book that we tend to misunderstand, push to one side, and leave out of our on-going discipleship. This is normally due to the bizarre stories and confusing symbolic references. However, when we place this letter in context, our understanding increases and we begin to see the benefits of this incredible letter.
Background to Revelation:
Written at a time when Christians were entering a time of persecution under Nero’s (not the coffee shop) reign the apostle John writes to encourage the faithful to resist the demands of emperor worship. Much of Revelation is symbolic: a final battle between God and Satan. But John’s message is simply for God’s people to stand firm, to continue pursuing God’s heart when facing the temptations of life and pressures from the ruling powers.
Why Seven Churches?
One of the distinctive features of Revelation is the frequent use of the number 7 (52 times). There are seven beatitudes, seven churches, seven spirits, seven golden lampstands, seven stars, seven seals, etc. So why was seven so important? Symbolically, the number seven stands for completeness…just like the number of days it took for the world to be completed (including the day of rest).
The Seven Churches:
In today’s passages we get an insight, a taste, a glimmer of the characteristics of various kinds of church congregations. Each church is located in Asia Minor. The general pattern in the letters to each church is commendation, complaint and correction.
Below are examples of this pattern for each church:
Ephesus – ‘You have forsaken your first love’ (2:4)
Smyrna – ‘Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life’ (2:10)
Pergamum – ‘You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam…’ (2:14)
Thyatira – ‘By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols’ (2:20b)
Sardis – ‘Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God’. (3:2)
Philadelphia – ‘Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown’ (3:11)
Laodicea – ‘Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent’ (3:19).
Correction is important:
So what can we learn from these letters and this pattern of commendation, complaint and correction?
From observation, we, the church, seem to avoid confrontation and correction. This is also true for our personal lives…we long to get things right so we don’t get the blame or are told off for getting something wrong.
In the letters to the seven churches, God is not afraid of pointing out the churches problems and correcting it so the church can grow in depth and numerically.
Correction is essential and needs to happen in our personal lives and corporate life.
There are four spaces in life: private, personal, social and public.
Public – the crowd, the Sunday gathering, 100+ people
Social – the mid-size community, cluster, 15+30 people
Personal – small group, close friendships, 5-10 people
Private – best friend, close companion, 2-3 people that you share everything with
For me correction in life is essential but it has to come from the people that I trust and will speak truth into my life. Correction normally happens in the private space: the two or three people that know me best (warts and all). I also have a mentor who has more life experience than I who I give permission to speak into life situations.
Being accountable for your life is really, really important. God holds us accountable for the things we do and say. When I became a disciple of Jesus I stepped into a relationship with Him. This relationship brings responsibility and I am answerable to Him and those that he puts in my life.
Being accountable, being honest to a select few enables correction to happen and eventually, through the pain and wrestling brings life to the full.
So get yourself accountable and ask for advice, correction and insight of how to live your life better.
‘He who has an ear let him hear’ – Listening and implementing good advice brings freedom and joy. Search for correction and listen to what God is saying.