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A Spiritual Evaluation—Evaluating Ourselves and Our Churches by Jesus' Evaluation of the 7 Churches in Revelation

Revelation 2 and 3

Part One: Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum

Introduction:

Think with me about some basic but intriguing questions.
  • What does Jesus think about us individually?
  • Is there an evaluation of our spiritual lives only in eternity, or is it also done in the present?
  • Does Jesus evaluate and judge a local church, or just its individual members?
  • What if an angel from God delivered a letter from Jesus to our church; what would be affirmed and what would be criticized?

 


In Revelation chapters 2 and 3 we discover the answers to those questions and some interesting things about the local church:

 

  • Jesus walks among the churches in our area and can characterize the strengths and weaknesses of each in a few summary statements.

  • Jesus views believers individually and connected to a local church.

  • Jesus will evaluate our lives now and in the future.

  • Jesus calls us to change both individually and collectively at the same time.

  • Jesus sustains, strengthens, forgives, and walks among us even today.

  • Jesus wants us to listen intently to what He says.

In order to understand our possibilities as a church, we need to have an overview of the book of Revelation, and answer some basic questions about chapters 2 and 3.

 

A Basic Overview of Revelation

The Purposes

The purpose of the Revelation is found in the first five words: "The revelation of Jesus Christ..."—1:1. Its essence is to reveal the person and work of Jesus. Another purpose is to prepare the church and individuals for the work God intends to do in the church.

 

The Recipient

It was first given to John, and he was to write and send it to seven churches—v. 11a. Obviously, the Scripture intends us to find application for these specific instructions in our day as well.

 

Some Basic Questions About Revelation 2-3

What is the promise for those who hear, read and obey the contents of the book of Revelation?—Rev. 1:3. The reader who hears and takes to heart what is said will be blessed. This verse makes it clear that the purpose is not just to inform us about the future, but motivate us to live godly lives now.

Who are the seven churches this letter was written to?—v. 11b. ...to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea—2:1-3:13.

What does all the symbolism concerning the seven churches mean? This symbolism is found in the vision John received from the Lord in chapter 1:9-19. For example, in this passage you see the mention of stars, lampstands, and angels. Thankfully, we don't need to guess what they symbolize. Jesus tells us what they represent in Rev. 1:20—"The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches."

The angels could be heavenly guardians/angels—it is possible that each church had its own protecting angel. It seems a tad strange to write to angels, however ("to the angel of the church of..."), when the focus of the letters is on the churches themselves.

More probably, the angels are human messengers, i.e., pastors/teaching elders of the church. The word for angel is sometimes used for human messengers; e.g., Matt. 11:7-10 and Luke 9:52. If the word refers to the pastors/main teachers through which the message of the letter was to be delivered, pastor(s) are given a window of insight into how they are held (in Christ's hand) and their awesome responsibility to the church.

With that background in mind, how do we apply the messages of the seven churches to our day, and especially to our individual lives in our Chalk Revival (going into our prayer closet, drawing a circle around ourselves and praying until revival/renewal comes to us)?

There are basically three characteristics listed here; we will alternate between these three:

  1. The Qualities to Pray For
  2. The Sins to Repent Of
  3. The Cause for Praise: Jesus

 

The Church in Ephesus—Rev. 2:1-7

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: "These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."
We won't give a complete description of each city, but here are a few basic facts. Ephesus was an important harbor because four highways led into it. It was a great trade route and a considerable amount of wealth came to and through the city. Paul ministered in this place of worship for Artemis for more than two years (Acts 19:8-10), and later Timothy was sent to the city to carry on the work—1 Tim. 1:3. Paul probably spent a lot of time here because of the city's strategic importance. Ephesus was Paul's ministry headquarters for a number of years. It was to this city that the first personal letter from Jesus was sent (Rev. 2).

Let's notice the positive qualities that Jesus mentions here and then test whether these are seen in our lives, individually and corporately.

The Qualities to Pray For

Jesus noticed the following positive qualities. Take the test. Do they describe you?

 

  1. hardworking servant: v. 2a—I know your deeds, your hard work...

    yes no sometimes

     

  2. persevering/patient: v. 2b—and your perseverance.

    yes no sometimes

     

  3. discerning (rooted in the Word). v. 2c—...you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.

    yes no sometimes

     

    Note: The Ephesians knew the Word so well that they were able to examine the teachings of anyone who came along, to discern what was true and false.
  4. enduring (endures hardship): v. 3a—You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name,

    yes no sometimes

     

  5. not growing weary: v. 3b—and have not grown weary. (See also Heb. 12:3.)

    yes no sometimes

     

  6. hating sin, especially pushing liberty to an extreme/self-indulgence: v. 6—But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (See also Gal. 5:13.)

    yes no sometimes

     

    Note: The Nicolaitans were a group of heretics. Essentially, they pushed their Christian liberty to an extreme. They were characterized as being very self-indulgent. They replaced their liberty with license and essentially perverted the grace God has given—Gal. 5:13. The Ephesians spotted this and sent the Nicolaitans away. It is interesting to see how Jesus feels about this kind of belief system; He hates it!
We could think that this was a church that had no problems, but the fact is, it did.

 

The Sins to Repent Of

Jesus noticed the following sin in the life of the Ephesian church. Does it describe you? Take the test.

 

  1. forsaking love of Christ: i.e., the quality/intensity of love has weakened. v. 4—Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love...

    yes no sometimes

     

Isn't this amazing? A church that had so much going for it in the Word, was losing its affection for Christ. On one end of the scale the people were doing fine, but on the love scale they were fading. Let this be a warning to those who gauge their spirituality by what they know. We need to maintain our love relationship with the Lord—if we don't, our church could fade from the map as a viable place of ministry in this area. Listen to what Jesus says in v. 5b—If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

Does this describe you? Is your love for Christ waning, or is it growing day by day? Your answer to that question can affect us all, and the continuing witness of this church in our area. If you or someone you know is waning in devotion to Christ, He tells us how to grow in love for Him.

The solution

: vv. 5-7—
Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

 

If you have forsaken your first love:

Remember the height from which you have fallen.
Take some inventory of your spiritual life. Is it what it used to be, that is, your love for Christ?

Repent—turn from your lack of love and evotion.

Redo—do the things you did at first. Go back to the things that helped to maintain and build your love relationship with Christ!

Relate— to the One who is walking among you. You don't have to go that far to find Him; He's already close at hand.

The Cause For Praise: Jesus

This column describes the qualities of Jesus that are mentioned in relationship to each church. If we would take this first column all at once, it would give us a wonderful list of qualities to praise God for—I encourage you to use the list that way.

I also want you to notice that Jesus highlights a specific quality for each church. It is a side of/glance at Him that will be helpful to that church in its circumstances, to help bring either correction or encouragement, or both.

In relationship to Ephesus, we see Jesus described as One "...who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands..." This gives us great reason to praise Him. Though we can't see Jesus, we have reason in hardship to reach out and take His hand; or when our love begins to wane, to ask for His help in rebuilding our relationship! What a wonder it is to have Jesus walk among us!

If we listen, then, to what the Spirit is saying to the churches, Jesus gives us a summary statement to praise Him for. v. 7—He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.(See Rev. 22:2.) It is obvious we need to listen and respond to the Lord's call to a renewal of our love for Him. If we do, we will be classified as overcomers, with unbelievable rights.

 

The Church in Smyrna—Rev. 2:8-11

To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.

The city of Smyrna was perhaps the most beautiful in all of Asia Minor (with the exception that the architect planned the city with no drains, thus the sewage ran down the streets!). It is one of the largest cities in Asia Minor today and is called Ismir. Smyrna got its name from its very profitable trade in myrrh (note: myrrh can refer to suffering). It was also a pagan worship center.

In the middle of the city, however, was a church that loved Christ. The Christians were being killed and persecuted, but the more they were crushed, the more this church grew. Interestingly, there is no church in Ephesus today, but there is one in Smyrna/Ismir. Its believers never left their first love. This church represents every persecuted church and believer of every age.

Let's notice the positive qualities that Jesus mentions here and then again take a test as to whether these are seen in our lives, individually and corporately.

The Qualities to Pray For

  1. rich, though afflicted and in poverty: v. 9a—I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!

    yes no sometimes

    These people couldn't get jobs and were apparently victimized by those who stole or damaged what they did have. The Christians essentially had nothing and were in a desperate situation, probably because of economic pressure and persecution due to their refusal to participate in emperor worship or other pagan gods and, quite possibly, from unsaved Jews who were particularly angered by Christians. It is significant, however, that Jesus calls them "rich."

    If you are having a hard time with your finances, or others are giving you a bad time because of your faith, have you considered yourself rich as well? Take the test. Apparently Jesus sees something we don't. In this instance, He reminded them of the things money couldn't buy. They had a priceless faith.

     

    • They had the fruit of the Spirit—Gal. 55:22-23

       

    • They had a fellowship with Christ through their suffering—Phil. 3:10

       

    • They had treasures in heaven—Matt. 6:19-21

       

    • They had nothing, yet they possessed everything— 2 Cor. 6:10

       

    • They were rich in faith and inherited the kingdom—James 2:5

       

  2. faithful overcomer, though slandered, suffering, imprisoned, tested, persecuted: v. 9b-11—I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.

     

    yes no sometimes

    Interestingly, church history records that the Jews in Smyrna put to death Polycarp, the pastor of this church. They burned him at the stake. But when they were going to nail him to the stake he said, "'For he who gives me power to endure the fire, will grant me to remain in the flames unmoved, even without the security you will give me by the nails.' So they left him loosely bound in the flames"—Barclay, Westminster Press, pp. 76-77.

    What was it that enabled the people of Smyrna to stand such a test?

     

The Cause for Praise: Jesus

I want you to notice again that Jesus highlights a specific quality for the church in Smyrna: a description of Himself that is a great encouragement to these people. In v. 8 we see Jesus described as: "...the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. The people in Smyrna needed to know that Jesus understood suffering, too. He could identify with their pain.

 

We need to remind ourselves in suffering and pain that our Lord is intimately aware of suffering. He has been through the worst pain and has experienced a resurrection, so He also knows the other side of pain: victory!

You'd think that many of the people in this church would have become angry at their condition and denied the faith.

 

The Sins to Repent Of

There is no mention of sin in the church at Smyrna! Does this describe you?

yes no sometimes

These people didn't lose their first love. They exuded a wonderful fragrance for life, even though almost crushed to death. Jesus' encouragement to them, therefore, is fitting.

    vv. 10c-11—Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.

     

What a wonderful promise. No circumstance—including death—can take away our crown of life, thus the call is to be faithful.

 

The Church in Pergamum—Rev. 2:12-17

 This church was found in a city that was definitely antagonistic to its faith. It was a church right in the middle of Satan's territory (see 2 Cor. 4:4; I John 5:19). William Barclay writes that one of the temples to Zeus "stood on a projecting ledge of rock and looked exactly like a great throne on the hillside. All day it smoked with the smoke of sacrifices offered to Zeus"—Barclay, Revelation of John, vol. 1, p. 89.

Pergamum was also a religious center with three other temples, all built on a large hill where the temple to Zeus was found. There was a large university and a library of 200,000 volumes (before the printing press!). The main business of the city was to manufacture papyrus paper and parchment.

Let's notice the positive qualities Jesus mentions here, and then let's once again take a test as to whether these are seen in our lives, individually and corporately.

 

The Qualities to Pray For

Jesus noticed the following positive qualities. Take the test. Do they describe you?

staying true in spite of testing, i.e., you do not renounce/deny faith when others are persecuted/tested/sick. v. 13—I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

yes no sometimes

Often in circles of learning and with "educated" friends, we receive some pretty sophisticated arguments that many believers have difficulty withstanding. Then there is the circumstance where a friend or church member may go through a horrendous spiritual experience. This can likewise make us angry, or even deny the faith. We can get ticked off at God and wonder what in the world is going on. The church in Pergamum, however, stood in spite of that kind of testing. Does that describe you?

We could think that this was a church with few problems, if any, but that was not the case.

The Sins to Repent Of

Jesus noticed the following sins in the life of the church at Pergamum. a. compromise which leads to sexual immorality. v. 14— Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.

Note: In order to understand how they got to this place, we would have to discuss in detail the teaching of Balaam from the Old Testament (see Num. 22-25). In essence, the teaching could be described as compromise, which leads to sexual immorality.

  1. compromise which leads to sexual immorality

yes no sometimes

Does this describe you? Take the test. Have you compromised your faith and find yourself in sexual immorality? Whether you know it or not, you have bought into a teaching that goes back to Numbers 22- 25. It is called by many names, but the result is the same—sexual immorality.

Another sin that Jesus wanted those in Pergamum to repent from was propagated in the teachings of the Nicolaitans. v. 15—Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

This could be summarized in this description: pushing Christian liberty to an extreme/self-indulgence. Essentially the Nicolaitans were a group of heretics who took the teachings of a man by the name of Nicholas, perverted them, and turned to immorality. They abused their freedom in Christ. Essentially they said, "we're free in Christ to do what we want," and that included sins of immorality and other areas of extreme self-indulgence. Does that describe you?

  1. pushing Christian liberty to an extreme/self-indulgence

yes no sometimes

The Solution

Jesus gives a very specific solution to those in this category. It is described in v. 16—Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.p The call to a person in this situation is to repentance; a complete turning from sexual sin and self-indulgence. There is to be no sexual compromise.

 

The Cause for Praise: Jesus

Here Jesus highlights a specific quality for this church. It is a view of Him that should help bring correction, encouragement, or both. v. 12—"To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword" (see also Heb. 4:12).

This is a church that could stand the test of persecution and not deny the faith, and its people needed to know the Word of God in order to maintain their stance in testing. But Jesus reminds us here of the sword of God which can be used in two ways:

  1.  
    1. as Heb. 4:12 tells us, it can reveal the thoughts and intent of our hearts and be an encouragement to us, or
    2. it can be used to judge us.

The Word can be used as an instrument to judge and reveal our sin or as an encouragement, i.e., as a Sword of comfort and blessing, or judgment.

One reflection on the Welsh revival was that they should have been more attentive to the Word of God in their services. This was the reflection of the son of the man (Evan Roberts) God used to begin the Welsh Revival in the early 1900s. Thousands of people were radically affected by this renewal—whole towns were changed. But an emphasis on the Word of God was lacking.

We might be standing strong in one area of our life, even experiencing renewal, but compromising in another. The cure is to bring the Word of God into our chalk revival—into the circle of our personal renewal—and allow it to judge the thoughts, attitudes, and actions of our whole lives.

If we will do this, Jesus has some wonderful promises for us. If He says no to an area of sin, He practices a wonderful parenting technique—He also says yes to something better. He has a wonderful promise for the one who will obey. 17] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.

Hidden manna implies spiritual food and fellowship with God. God offers a relationship with Him and His church that will supply the spiritual nourishment we need to satisfy any craving we have. It's hidden from those who don't know Christ, but available to all who follow Him. The image of the white stone with a new name written on it is difficult to understand, but it apparently refers to a stone given to someone to signify acceptance and favor—much like it might mean today. This stone has a special inscription on it, apparently unique to every individual who follows the Lord in purity of heart and life.

He promises us a special name known only to Christ and us. It may refer to a name that summarizes our gifts and the calling He has for us (e.g., the name Simon received when the Lord changed his name to Peter). Whatever the case, the white stone is a special acknowledgment of love; a sign that the bearer is loved by the Lord and is a person who has agreed to allow the Sword to purify their life on a regular basis. What an offer!

 


Conclusion:

How did you do in the test overall? If you see some area that isn't pleasing to the Lord, the wonderful thing is that this passage gives us the solution. If we are by God's grace walking in a way that is pleasing to Him, this passage gives us plenty of encouragement. Remember, how we do individually will affect how the Lord judges the whole church collectively! If you think it doesn't matter how your walk with God is progressing—think again! We all need you. We will face the Lord together and individually in the future, and even now we have to give an account.

Finally, to you who are sure you are not walking with God, the church in Smyrna has a powerful word for you. This letter concludes with this statement in v. 11—He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. This verse makes it clear you are in danger of a second death; eternal death without God.

The most important questions you are going to ask and answer are, "How are you going to overcome that death?" "How are you going to overcome sin, Satan and his world?" It is obvious there is only one way, and that is through Jesus Christ. You need to make sure you are ready for the time you will face Him in eternity. If you have an ear, you should hear the Spirit of God saying that to you right now.

 

    9] I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10] On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11] which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea." 12] I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13] 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. 14] His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15] His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16] In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. 17] 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. 18] I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. 19]"Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20] The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
    Conclusion: Because we are part of the Body of Christ, we are all connected. When we receive a compliment or criticism, we usually receive it in general terms; i.e., it is not directed at a part of our body—big toe or ear lobe. As a church, it is appropriate for us to be characterized by all-inclusive summary statements.

     

    Ephesus—Rev. 2:1-7. Jesus holds the churches in His hand and walks among us. Ephesus—Rev. 2:1-7.
    a. forsaking love of Christ, i.e., the quality/intensity of love has weakened—v. 4
    yes no sometimes

    b. solution: vv. 5-7

    Smyrna—Rev. 2:8-11. Jesus is the first and the last (Alpha & Omega). He was dead (crucified) and came to life (resurrected). Smyrna—Rev. 2:8-11.
    a. no sin to repent of
    b. encouragement: vv. 9-11
    Pergamum—Rev. 2:12-17; Heb. 4:12. Jesus has the sharp, two-edged sword, a sword He gives to us (the Word of God). He also has power over life and death—Rev. 1:16; 19:15,21. Pergamum—Rev. 2:12-17.
    a. compromise which leads to sexual immorality—v. 14
    yes no sometimes
    b. pushing Christian liberty to an extreme/self-indulgence—v. 15

    yes no sometimes

    c. solution: vv. 16-17

    Thyatira—Rev. 2:18-29. Jesus has eyes like a flame of fire—sees through seductive arguments. His feet are like burnished bronze, i.e., He has strength and splendor; rules with authority—v. 27. Thyatira—Rev. 2:18-29.
    a. tolerating false teaching and sinful behavior rather than confrontingit—vv. 20-21
    yes no sometimes
    b. Would you like to be singled out by Christ by name?
    c. solution: v. 21
    Sardis—Rev. 3:1-6.
    Jesus holds the 7 Spirits of God (Is. 11:2-5; or it means full range of power of H.S.); & the 7 stars, i.e., pastors. He never erases an overcomer's name from the Book of Life, but acknowledges his name before the Father/angels.
    Sardis—Rev. 3:1-6.
    a. look spiritual but dead inside—v. 1
    yes no sometimes
    b. solution: vv. 2-6
    Philadelphia—Rev. 3:7-13.
    Jesus is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What He opens no one can shut; what He shuts, no one can open. He knows our deeds; no plan/project/scheme succeeds if He uses the key to shut it out (or vice versa). Writes on us a new name—v. 12.
    Philadelphia—Rev. 3:7-13. —nothing to repent of

    Laodicea —Rev. 3:14-18.
    Jesus is the Amen; the faithful &true witness; the ruler of God's creation.

    All churches/people—Rev. 3:19-22. Those He loves He rebukes and disciplines. He stands at the door and knocks—v. 20. He gives the right to sit on His throne to all who overcome, as He did—v. 21.

    Laodicea—Rev. 3:14-18.
    a. neither hot nor cold - lukewarm in faith—v. 15

    b. solution: 3:17-18

    My church, my life
    a. How do I (we) do in the test?
    b. Solution: Apply solutions where applicable