When we read the book of Revelation, we may be disturbed with its fearful language and warnings. But first of all we need to realize that we must read it through the lens of Grace and not the law.
The book of Revelation was a letter to the 7 Churches in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) with specific messages for their issues.
Some Churches think that this message is for a future generation. But Paul the Apostle had already preached to these 7 Churches that existed in the 1st Century – these do not exist today.
Acts 19 “Paul, having passed through the upper country, came to Ephesus….reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all those who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks…… 26 You see and hear that not at Ephesus alone, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul has persuaded”
Those Churches were undergoing persecution in the Roman empire and also struggling with faith among false teachings.
Ephesus:- The Legalistic Church without love:
Revelation 2 “2 “I know your works, and your toil and perseverance, and that you can’t tolerate evil men, and have tested those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and found them false. 3 You have perseverance and have endured for my name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I am coming to you swiftly, and will move your lamp stand out of its place, unless you repent. 6 But this you have, that you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”
The Ephesians had become very legalistic. They were morally correct and quick to quash false teachings and gross sexual immorality (Nicolaitan teachings). But they were not loving. Remember in the epistle to the Ephesians, Paul prayed that they would know the love of Christ and the Father (Ephesians 1:16-20, 3:14-21). These Ephesians had lost their knowledge of the love of Christ and became super-legalistic. This is why Christ commanded them to “repent”/change their minds to go back to the simple message of GRACE. Otherwise He would remove their lamp stand – they would cease to be a Church that shone the light of Christ – they would be useless in reaching the lost. Without Christ’s gospel of grace and love, how could they be a lamp stand? This was not about losing salvation but about the effectiveness of their Church. Any ministry that focuses on the Law will break down and Christ will not support it – this was the danger for these Ephesians.
Smyrna:- The faithful Church battling Jewish persecution
Revelation 2 ” 10 Don’t be afraid of the things which you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested; and you will have oppression for ten days. Be faithful to death, and I will give you the crown of life. “
Jesus told them about the great salvation in heaven waiting for them despite all the persecution they were experiencing.
Pergamum & Thyatira:- Churches that encouraged idolatory and sexual immorality
Revelation 2 “13 “I know your works and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. You hold firmly to my name, and didn’t deny my faith in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to throw a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15 So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans likewise. 16 Repent therefore, or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth. “
Revelation 2 “19 “I know your works, your love, faith, service, patient endurance, and that your last works are more than the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate your woman, Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. She teaches and seduces my servants to commit sexual immorality, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her and those who commit adultery with her into a bed of great oppression, unless they repent of her works. 23 I will kill her children with Death, and all the assemblies will know that I am he who searches the minds and hearts. I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. 24 But to you I say, to the rest who are in Thyatira, as many as don’t have this teaching, who don’t know what some call ‘the deep things of Satan,’ to you I say, I am not putting any other burden on you.”
Jesus praised them for their faith and persistence in the face of great persecution. These two Churches were not legalistic like the Ephesians but they had another extreme problem – they were tolerating gross sexual immorality among some people in the Church. Jesus promised judgment on those people and not the entire Church. Those sexually immoral people were not believers but were deceived unbelievers. They were turning the grace of God into gross sinfulness (Jude 1:4, 2nd Peter 2:1-2). Why did Jesus threaten these people with punishment? Its because these unbelievers would perish forever unless they repented and got saved. Also any new unbeliever would come to the Church and think that the gospel was a license to sin but not get saved by the true grace of God that sets us free from sin.
Therefore Christ could not sit still and watch the Church being destroyed by false teaching. He promised to bring judgment on those wicked people.
Sardis:- The dead Church
Revelation 3 ““I know your works, that you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up and keep the things that remain, which you were about to throw away, for I have found no works of yours perfected before my God. 3 Remember therefore how you have received and heard. Keep it and repent. If therefore you won’t watch, I will come as a thief, and you won’t know what hour I will come upon you. 4 Nevertheless you have a few names in Sardis that didn’t defile their garments. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. “
James said that faith without “works” is dead. This was a Church where they were not preaching the gospel but mixing it with Law – and this resulted in spiritual death. Not many in the Church were saved but most of them were lost. As a Church, Jesus saw them as incomplete – they heard the Gospel but did not bear any fruit of the Spirit – there was no love. It was a dead, ritualistic Church without the gospel. It was simply “religious” like the Pharisees – clean on the outside but dead inside. Jesus commanded them to repent by truly believing in Christ – the “work” of God is that they truly believe in Christ to be saved (John 6:29)
Philadelphia:- the believing Church
Revelation 3 “8 “I know your works (behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one can shut), that you have a little power, and kept my word, and didn’t deny my name. 9 Behold, I give some of the synagogue of Satan, of those who say they are Jews, and they are not, but lie—behold, I will make them to come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.”
Jesus told them to keep on believing and not go back to the Law. He told them that the Jews who persecuted them would submit to them.
Laodicea: the undecided Church
Revelation 3 ” 14 “To the angel of the assembly in Laodicea write: “The Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of God’s creation, says these things: 15 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth. 17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing;’ and don’t know that you are the wretched one, miserable, poor, blind, and naked; 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich; and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I reprove and chasten. Be zealous therefore, and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with me. 21 He who overcomes, I will give to him to sit down with me on my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies.””
Jesus was chastising the Laodicean church for being lukewarm:
- They were trusting in their wealth and not in Christ.
- They were actually blind and naked
- This indicates that they were unbelievers who are spiritually naked (Revelation 16:15)
- The unbeliever is spiritually blind and is in darkness (John 9:39, 2 Corinthians 4:4)
- The believer is not spiritually blind but is in the light (Ephesians 5:18, 1 John 2:10)
- The believer is spiritually clothed with Christ’s righteousness. (Isaiah 61:10)
- They were counseled to buy gold refined in fire
- This refers to believers who have faith that is refined in fire and proven to be true (1 Peter 1:7)
- This proves that these Laodiceans did not have true faith.
- Jesus was trying to save them by knocking the door and coming to dine with them. He was outside the Church spiritually – not one with them!
- It’s because this Church was Christian only in name.
- They did not really believe in Christ but were trusting in their riches.
- They had no faith – they were not even saved.
- Those who believe in Christ become One with Him and the Father (See John 14 “23 Jesus answered him, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.”)
This is why Jesus told them to open the door to Him and the true Gospel of grace that would save them by faith. They were not even saved but were sitting on the fence regarding the gospel.
They should have been “hot” by fully believing in Christ.
They were not cold (unbelievers who totally rejected Christ).
But they were lukewarm – claiming to be believers but not saved.
Jesus wished they were either hot or cold. If they did not make their stand, then Christ would spit them out of His mouth – they would not be saved.
For the believer, we are one with the Lord and cannot be disowned or spat out.
1 Corinthians 6 “17 But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.“
Even if we struggle in faith, He is faithful and will not leave us because we are ONE with Him.
2 Timothy 2 “If we are faithless, he remains faithful; for he can’t deny himself.”