Reading for Tuesday, Nov 13: Revelation 2
With this chapter, John moves us to Jesus’ seven letters to the churches of Asia. It is an intriguing thought: what would Jesus say in correspondence with us? Would He have words of encouragement? Surely. But would He also surprise us with His words of rebuke? I suspect so. But this is more than mere literary innovation on John’s part. There are deeply theological reasons for this writing. These churches are either praised or reprimanded for their faithfulness or lack thereof. The primary question for Revelation isn’t “When is Christ coming again?”, much to the chagrin of the Jenkins / LaHaye crowd. The primary question Revelation is concerned with is this one: “How is God’s nearness embodied in everyday faithful practices?” Let’s look at the four churches addressed in this chapter as a means of fleshing this question out more fully:
Ephesus – Jesus praises this church’s patient endurance (v2), for not growing weary amid pressing evil (v3). “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first,” (v4). Love forsaken, promises forgotten. Jesus prescribes a remedy for the Ephesian condition: repentance (v5). And the promise of renewal still stands: “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God,” (v7).
Smyrna – These brothers and sisters face tribulation and poverty, yet they are not defined by either. In fact, Jesus admonishes them to think of themselves as rich (v9). “Do not fear what you are about to suffer…Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life,” (v10). Only Jesus has this prerogative; only He is fit to make this promise: “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death,” (v11).
Pergamum – This church resides in the shadow of Satan’s throne (v13), yet they continue as steadfast and faithful witnesses. False teaching threatens their relationship with the Lord, however. “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth,” (v16). But the promise is again extended, the promise of nourishment and renewal: “To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it,” (v17).
Thyatira – Again, praise for this church’s love, faith, and service (v19). “But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols,” (v20). It’s interesting that Thyatira is condemned for espousing what we consider to be the highest virtue in our culture. But again, the cure for what ails is repentance (v22). Jesus says, “The one who conquers and who keeps my words until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations,” (v26).
As we’ll see when we finish with the next chapter, John has much to say about “the one who conquers”. This is to be our way of identifying ourselves — claiming victory in light of what Jesus Christ has accomplished on our behalf. We’ll have more to say about that tomorrow.