Revelation: whoever has ears, let them hear

Today we look at the seven letters to the seven churches found in Revelation 1:9-3:22.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

So I read that passage aloud. It took ten minutes and you get a real sense of the rhythm and repetition and form by reading it aloud.

Before we look at the content of the seven letters, let’s focus first on the author of that content – Jesus Christ himself.

I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.  Revelation 1:12-18

What a glorious vision! Not something we should be afraid of, but certainly awe-inspiring. We should be awestruck by the radiance and brilliance of his presence.

This is Jesus in all his glory. This is Jesus who is alive for ever and ever. This is Jesus who says ‘Do not be afraid.’

There’s a beautiful pattern to the letters. Each one starts with one aspect of the above description. There’s an individual message followed by a command and a promise. There’s a resonance with how Jesus spoke to his followers on earth. God’s truths are repeated throughout history and remain the same yesterday, today and forever.

John was in exile on the island of Patmos. That’s relevant in itself. It was the equivalent of being in the wilderness – away from everything and everyone, seemingly set aside. And yet God was at work. God had an important message for him to hear.

The seven lampstands represent the seven churches, shining like lights in the world. The stars represent angels and each letter is addressed to the angel of that church (like an overseer/guardian or representative of the members of the church?). The lampstands (churches) may be scattered far and wide but the stars (angels/spirit of the church) are united together, held in the hand of Christ himself. What if we are seeing the back of the tapestry – all the loose intertwining threads that seem to make no sense -, but the other side, the beautiful pattern is what God sees and what we will see in the world to come? What if we see churches scattered across the earth, but God sees them as the church in unity, held in the palm of his hand?

1>Ephesus: The church is to be praised for its hard work and perseverance, its zeal for the truth – but where is the love? Let the loveless church beware.

2>Smyrna: Suffering is inevitable, but take heart: Jesus has walked that path before you. Remember God is in final control.

3>Pergamum: It looks like the powers of evil are in charge here in this permissive society where anything goes. Watch out for compromise.

4>Thyatira: This lively church is being poisoned from within. It’s being called instead to be ‘a faithful gospel lamp in the dark night of this world’. (page 51, The Message of Revelation)

5>Sardis: A good reputation counts for nothing if it is not based in current reality. Watch out for complacency.

6>Philadelphia: There’s no fault to find here, but opposition and opportunity to face. Let the Christians take heart.

7>Laodicea: This church is neither hot nor cold – what a terrible condemnation! This church claims to have everything yet has nothing. And yet there still is hope. Jesus still loves the church and reaches out.

All that we have looked at today is firmly grounded in this world, the world in which John lived and the world in which we live today. There are all sorts of churches out there across the world today – all sorts of denominations and traditions and gatherings that call themselves church. And all that is said to these seven churches in Revelation is relevant to churches around the world today.

Do any of these churches bear any similarities to your own church? What is God revealing to you today?

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

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