We’re going to take a little break from our “Blogging Through Acts” series to study the letters to the seven churches in Revelation. We will look at the circumstances those churches faced, what Jesus had to say about them – good and bad – and see if there’s any way we can apply His remedies to our circumstances today.
In Acts, Jesus directed His Apostles “through the Holy Ghost” (Acts 1:2). Now, let’s hear what the Lord Jesus, through the same Spirit, is saying to the churches (Revelation 2:6).
In Revelation 2:1, Jesus introduces Himself to the Ephesians as “he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.” As with many of Jesus’ self-descriptions in these letters, this one hearkens back to the vision of the Glorified Christ John writes about in chapter 1. “And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man…” John continues his description, “And he had in his right hand seven stars” (Rev. 1:12-13, 16). We don’t have to guess or wonder what these mean; Jesus tell us. “The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.” (Rev. 1:20)
So Jesus is the One Who holds the “angel” of this church, and by extension all churches, in His hand. Many commentators see the term “angel” not as a heavenly being, but as referring to the church’s leader, i.e. its pastor or elder, since “angel” literally means messenger. Jesus walks among the churches examining them with his all-knowing, penetrating gaze, testing their works.
First, He commends them for their tireless work for Him and their perseverance in that work. What was that work? Primarily, it was the testing of those who claimed to be Apostles and exposing those who weren’t. They heeded Paul’s admonition:
“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:28-31)
But they had forgotten about “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15); they had forgotten Paul’s tears. Once known for their love (Eph. 1:15-16), they had left it.
Sound doctrine is important (later, we will see a church that was the opposite; it had love but tolerated false doctrine), but so is love. We must contend for the faith (Jude 3) while speaking the truth, and we must do so “in love.” Out of love for the Lord Jesus, to preserve the purity of His Word and to feed His sheep (John 21:15-17). Out of love for the saints, so they will not be caught up in false teaching (Acts 20:29-31). And out of love for those who are caught up in false teaching, so they will hopefully escape the snare of the devil (2 Tim. 2:26).
To the overcomer, Jesus promises that He will “give [him] to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). Later in his apocalyptic vision, John writes of the Tree of Life:
“And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 22:1-5)
This is in the New Jerusalem in the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21:1-2). Chapter 22 continues: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (verse 14). So the promise to overcomers is citizenship in the heavenly city, dwelling with God eternally.
Who are the overcomers? John tells us in his first epistle: “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5) We who believe in Jesus are the overcomers and we will be with God, as citizens of His heavenly kingdom, forever.