Read Revelation 2
After seeing Jesus, John is told to write a letter to each of the seven churches, represented by the seven lampstands. These letters could simply be letters to each of those churches, addressing issues that were present at that time. However, with the greater arc of this book being to the Church Universal, limiting the writing and its meaning in that way wouldn’t necessarily fit the whole of the book of Revelation. Notes in my Study Bible suggest the possibility of these letters being a “preview of church history in its downward course toward Laodicean lukewarmness.” Another possible interpretation would be that these letters represent the “characteristics of various kinds of Christian congregations that have existed from John’s day until the present time.” Being that we believe God’s Word to be “living and active,” each and/or all of these could have some semblance of truth to them.
The words for each church come from Jesus, but His introduction in them bears one of the different characteristics of His appearance, found in chapter one. Each difference is based on the message that is coming to them, both the tone and the type of message.
The Church in Ephesus:
By now, the church in Ephesus is quite familiar to us. Having read Paul’s letter to them as well as some discussion around the church in other letters, we know that the city was one of great importance and as such, the church there faced a number of challenges from false teachers both outside and inside the church. To that, though, Christ speaks words of praise; they have readily resisted those teachings including those of the Nicolaitans, a heretical sect that had worked out a compromise with pagan society.
Yet, in the midst of this battle, they seem to have forgotten that which is most important, love. It’s easy to begin with love but as many in relationships know, love takes hard work and dedication to continue on in. This isn’t simply true in human relationships, it is also very true in our relationship with God. We need to hold onto this love because it is that love, the love of God in Jesus Christ, that will bring victory in the end.
The Church in Smyrna:
Smyrna was a city that was closely affiliated with Rome and therefore desired greatly to worship the Emperor. It was also home to a very large Jewish population that was hostile to the church there. Christians here likely experienced a lot of persecution, something that Jesus Himself was familiar with. Jesus’ words are those of encouragement to persevere despite the conditions there for their true home and true victory lie in something much greater than this life.
The Church in Pergamum:
The city of Pergamum was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and as such it was the official center of emperor worship in that region. This gives light to the comment that “satan’s throne” was there and it also explains why Jesus uses the image of the sword in His introduction. Antipas is traditionally known as the first martyr in Asia. His death makes some of the things we hear about terrorists doing today look tame.
Though they have remained faithful in the midst of intense persecution and cultural pressure, Jesus still calls them out on some false teachings that they continue to allow within the church. It is not enough for us to remain open and functioning as a church in the midst of persecution. If we give in and allow for culture and heresies to change us, we might as well not even be there. True victory comes from faith in Jesus Christ, the true victor, not in remaining physically present at the expense of salvation.
The Church in Thyatira:
Thyatira was a military outpost known for its guilds and trading. It is also known for being the home of Lydia, a prominent woman in the early church. This may be one of the reasons for the images Jesus uses in his introduction; refining fire and burnished bronze are both things that would be familiar to this city, their worth, having been refined, was much greater. Jesus commends the church here for their growth, how things seem to be getting better. Yet, just one is growing does not mean that evil things within its bounds can be tolerated.
Yet, just one is growing does not mean that evil things within its bounds can be tolerated. This has applications both personally and corporately. Sometimes, when things are going well, we want to ignore the negative things that might be happening so as to not create waves. To this, Jesus says “no”. He is not in the business of comfort, nor does He desire half growth… we cannot keep our pet sins as we continue to grow and be sanctified. True victory comes in wholeheartedly following Jesus, putting off all other things.