In our last blog, Revelation Blog 2, Second Things, we discussed my favored method to interpret Revelation—through a lens of literal meaning. Even though some of the imagery in Revelation has been historically outside our limited imagination, as time speeds toward the culmination of God’s worldwide plans, we are able to understand Scriptures which ten years ago, blew our ability to visualize right out our prophetic windows.
But with the onset of a worldwide pandemic along with calls for one-world government, talk of no-cash-electronic financial systems, and upticks in religious persecution, some of the biblical statements that seemed far fetched a few years ago are suddenly imaginable.
As well, the last blog discussed how more than 300 prophetic verses about the return of Christ in the Old Testament have been literally fulfilled. This sets an important literal precedent in interpretation and expectation of prophetic completion.
Now we will move to the opening scene of John’s vision on Patmos, Christ the King standing among His churches. Because this is a blog and not a book, we’ll hit the main points of the seven letters written to the seven churches. But I encourage you to look deeply into these letters and discover revelation for yourself because, as we said in Revelation Blog 1, First Things First, you are already equipped with everything you need to understand the important message the Lord sends through this last and illuminating book of the Bible.
One of my favorite Bible teachers is Jack Kelley, a man who wrote biblical commentaries from His website, Grace Thru Faith. Jack went to dwell with the Lord in heaven in 2015. But in his study of Revelation, he explained that there are four levels of application within the church letters. While I’m not one-hundred percent supportive of all four interpretations, his view is certainly interesting to ponder. Here are the four applications he suggests we apply to these seven letters.
- Historical—these seven churches existed in modern day Turkey and were experiencing challenges.
- Corporately Admonitory—because all seven letters were to read all seven churches, the letters were warnings to all.
- Personal Call to Action—each letter holds a call to action and a promise to the individuals within the church who heed the warnings.
- Church History—read in the order in which they appear, the churches could outline earth’s church history.
Here is the outline of fourth interpretation, church history:
- Ephesus: Apostolic or New Testament first churches
- Smyrna: Second and third century church (suffered extreme persecution)
- Pergamum: The State church beginning with Constantine
- Thyatira: The rise of the Roman Catholic Church
- Sardis: Mainline Protestants beginning in the 16th century
- Philadelphia: Mission church beginning with William Carey (late 1700s; early 1800s)
- Laodicea-One world church during pretribulation and into The Great Tribulation
While there is debate about the church history interpretation, I do agree with Jack Kelley and others who believe the admonishments were meant to bring our own shortcomings to light. The criticisms found in each letter were to be taken personally, not just corporately.
What I find fascinating about these letters is that in each, Christ refers to himself in a different title, and in each, there is a different promise for the one who overcomes or perseveres. But I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s a couple of important notes in the dictated prologue of the letters. If Revelation was written to reveal, then we need to stop along the way and question the meaning.
The greetings from John to the church on the behalf of Christ are beautiful. I like to read through this portion imagining that I’ve received this letter and am reading it for the first time. We’re told that the letter is from John and Jesus and Jesus is referred to as “the faithful witness, the first born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of earth.
Like the vision of Christ in the royal white robe, eyes ablaze, we’re given another revelation of our Savior here. We are told He is the faithful witness. This, as you probably understand, is a description of a person defending some one or thing. A faithful witness is someone who can be trusted to give an honest testimony. Wow. We’re being told that when the accuser stands before the Lord and vomits out all the sinful acts your and I have committed, it is Christ who will walk up to the court and pronounce us sinless.
When Christ is referred to as the “first born of the dead,” I’m reminded that it was his resurrection that made the way for my resurrection. He is first and because He paved the way, I am among those who will rise after.
And then, the third title of our Christ in this letter written to the churches, Christ is called the ruler of the kings of the earth. This for me, is the ultimate revelation because we’re shown through world history that God has, all along, planned to rule His creation. What we didn’t realize in the Garden of Eden, is that God would become man, sacrifice himself, and rule after He conquered His own curse: death. But looking through the rearview mirror, we see where the shadows of what was to come cast glimpses of the plan. Our Bible Study God’s Will: Unraveling the Mystery will take you on a journey of God’s will from Eden to today and how you fit into the master plan. I encourage you to check it out!
But back to our letters. At the beginning of each letter, Christ refers to himself as yet another holy title, further amplifying the revelation of all He is. At the close of each letter is a different promise for those who heed the words. These promises are a continuation of who our King Jesus is: the Giver of every good and perfect gift.
Here are the Titles along with the promises:
- Ephesus – Christ’s title: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lamp stands. Christ’s gift: To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.
- Smyrna – Christ’s title: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life. Christ’s gift: He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.
- Pergamum – Christ’s title: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword. Christ’s gift: To him that overcomes, to him I will give some hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.
- Thyatira – Christ’s title: The Son of God who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are burnished bronze. Christ’s gift: And He who overcomes and keeps My deeds until the end, to Him will give authority over the nations.
- Sardis – Christ’s title: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. Christ’s gift: He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the Lamb’s Book of Life, and I will confess His name before My Father and before His angels.
- Philadelphia – Christ’s title: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut and who shuts and no one will open. Christ’s gift: He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it any more and I will write upon him the name of My God.
- Laodicea – Christ’s title: The Amen, the faithful, and true Witness and the Beginning of the creation of God. Christ’s gift: He who overcomes, I will grant him to sit down with Me on My throne as I also overcome and sat down with My Father.
Ears to Hear
Another interesting point the letters have in common is Christ’s closing salutation. He uses the phrase, “He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” in all seven letters. I am assuming that you, like me, have an ear. Probably a couple of them. Therefore, we are called to hear/read what the Spirit says to the churches. Each admonition is something we need to heed in our own corporate, but also private spiritual lives.
I’ll leave it to you to read through the seven admonitions in the context of each church. But here’s a bulleted list for us to refer to:
- You’ve left your first love
- You believe you are poor but you are rich
- You’ve allowed false teachings to slip inside
- You’ve allowed a false prophet into leadership
- You are dead and the entire church is at risk of death
- No one can shut the open door I’ve put before you
- You are a lukewarm church
How do each of these warnings/admonitions apply to each of as individuals? I see these as harmonious to the warnings that Christ gave his disciples years earlier: In Matthew 24, when the disciples asked Christ for signs of His coming, the first thing he said was “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying , ‘I am the Christ, and mislead many.'”
From the admonitions in the list above, I can say Christ warned of what has happened and is happening. False teaching and false prophets abound.
Keeping the Purpose–the Revelation of Christ
I have a challenge: Since Revelation was written as “The Revelation of Jesus Christ,” I encourage you to take each of the titles Christ calls himself and write out what that tells you, personally, about your kind in heaven. He’s revealing Himself. Go ahead, get to know Him.
That’s all for today, but watch for the next Revelation blog: Revelation 4, What Must Take Place:
If I perish, I perish,