Yesterday and today we read Revelation chapters 2 and 3 which contain Jesus’ messages to the 7 Churches of Aisa Minor.
The first thing to realize about these Churches is that they are real Churches. They probably did not have physical buildings but they are the specific groups of Christians that live in these 7 cities. They are believers, converts who have been baptized. They are alive on the earth at the time this Revelation is given to John. Thus, Jesus is commenting on their spiritual well-being in real time.
Notice, to 6 of the 7 Churches Jesus says:
2:2 “‘I know your works, …
2:9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty…
2:19 “‘I know your works,…
3:1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works;…
3:8 “‘I know your works….
3:15 “‘I know your works:…
To the other (Pergamum which is actually 3rd on the list), Jesus says, “‘I know where you dwell, …” This is because there was a synagogue in the town that was particularly hostile to the Church. Thus this also refers to the “work” of suffering for following the Lord.
Jesus says NOTHING about their FAITH. Their faith is not in question. They are Christian. They believe. However, what they are DOING, how they are ACTING, that is what Jesus speaks about. And notice what Jesus tells each of them:
2:4 But I have this against you that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
2:16 Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
2:22 Behold, I will throw her on a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her doings;
3:2 Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. 3 Remember then what you received and heard; keep that, and repent.
3:19 Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent.
To 5 of the 7 is given a specific directive of repentance. This does not sound like these people are “once saved, always saved.” It does not sound like they are “eternally secure.” In fact, Jesus message is much more direct and dramatic. To paraphrase it, Jesus says, ‘Get back to living a righteous life and I will reward you with heaven. Keep up your current living and I will withdraw my favor.’ Salvation is a process that goes on our whole lives. We will drift away. Even to drift into un-zealous faith, to be luke warm is a sin. We must always repent and renew our relationship with Christ.
This also demonstrates something else about Churches – they will not be perfect. Churches are not museums for saints, they are hospitals for sinners! Because of this Jesus has given the Church divine protection. He sends angels to watch over them (as the message to each of the 7 Churches is directed to its “angel”). To his ministers he makes revelations to cajole them back to repentance.
But wouldn’t Jesus do this for any “church”? Wouldn’t he do it for any community of faithful believers? The Scripture anticipates this question and gives an example to guide us. To the Churches at Ephesus and Pergamum, respectively, Jesus says,
2:6 Yet this you have, you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
2:14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality. So you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
Recall, WHO the Nicolaitans were (back from the beginning of the year when we read the Acts of the Apostles). Nicholas was a DEACON, an ordained minister. He was a convert to Judaism who then converted to Christianity. He broke with the Apostles and started his own Church over a disagreement as to whether new converts had to be circumcised.
Notice what Jesus says, to the Church at Ephesus, he commends them for rejecting the works of the Nicolaitans. To the Church at Pergamum, Jesus is not happy. He tells them to repent of following the false doctrine as separated teacher. Jesus says if they do not hat He says he will make war on them. This is serious stuff and not to be taken lightly. And that is really the key to the messages to the 7 Churches. Jesus says:
3:11 I am coming soon; hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.
You see, the Book of Revelation does contain some prophecy about the end of days but that is of little consequence. The book is true for every generation. It is true for every particular person. Jesus is coming soon. We will all have our personal end of days. We will not know when that day is. There is no time for dilly dallying with error, false teachings and false prophets. There is no time for luke warm faith. The call to repentance is an urgent matter. The call to conversion is an urgent matter. The call to the Church is an urgent matter. This is what Pope Francis has been saying. That is why “his message” is attracting so much attention. The time is now. He is an “angel” sent to the Church to revitalize the message. Who will listen?