The Book of Revelation
We often read the book of Revelation in ways that make this book non-practical. But Revelation was written to real Christians, in real history, for a real purpose.
Vern Poythress says that Revelation is the most practical book because it was written to Christians at the end of the Apostolic age, like us.
Revelation shows us the relationship between evil, suffering, and persecution under the sovereign hand of God and points us to the all-consuming glory and worth of Jesus Christ.
Key Principles in Revelation
There are over 500 references in Revelation to the Old Testament, most from Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
John often hears and sees (Revelation 1:12ff) these apocalyptic visions. There are many symbols that paint pictures for us. As you follow John’s sight of Jesus Christ remember the symbolism.
A good rule of thumb in Revelation is to assume it’s a symbol or a picture, unless it is clearly not one.
Lastly worth mentioning is the use of numbers in Revelation:
- The number 3 — the number for God (i.e. the Trinity). Hence, why the unholy trinity in Revelation 13 of Satan, the beast, and the false prophet.
- The number 4 — usually refers to creation. The four angels, four corners of the earth, the four creatures, the four winds; a people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation; sword, famine, disease, wild beast, etc. When you come across fours, this usually refers to all the earth.
- The number 7 — the number of perfection, whether good or bad. The seven seals, horns, spirits, eyes, angels, trumpets, heads, plagues, bowls, thunders, crowns, hills, kings. Hence, the seven churches in Revelation refer not only to seven actual churches but also to a perfect representation of the church.
The Seven Churches of Revelation
1). The Church of Ephesus (2:1-7)
The church in Ephesus, residing in a wealthy city, is now found to be growing in that they have forsaken their first love (2:4-5). They have a right practice (2:1-3) but have left their first love: Christ.
If we as a church fail to love and treasure Christ rightly, our works and ministries and outreaches are not enough. If God the Father was well-pleased with His beloved, Son (Matthew 3:17; cf. Isaiah 42:1), should not the chief desire of the church (the bride of Christ) be the beloved Son?
Jesus Himself threatened to remove their lamp stand, i.e. demolish them. A church’s love is more central than a church’s labor. If we overcome this fatal sin, we will partake in the “tree of life” (Revelation 2:7), as in the Garden of Eden.
2). The Church in Smyrna (2:8-11)
False teaching is satanic (2:9). And, Satan will try to throw some of these believers in prison through the means of worldly and hostile agents on earth (2:10). The 10 days is either literal or just simply refers to a small period of time; meaning, testing in the Christian life is a small time of testing.
Their charge: “be faithful unto death” and you will receive the crown of life and escape the “second death,” (2:10-11). This letter has nothing negative to say about the church.
Compared to eternal life and the glory of God enjoyed in heaven, all suffering is comparatively small (Romans 8:18). Therefore, endure to the end.
3). The Church in Pergamum (2:12-17)
In Berlin, there is a throne-altar of Zeus that was taken by the Germans and set in a massive museum. This is the throne of Satan that John refers to (2:13).
This warning comes from He who has the sharp double-edged sword, meaning, this is a threatening letter to a decomposing church.
There is blatant false teaching here (2:14) that Jesus rightly detests. Therefore, Jesus will war against them “with the sword of [His] mouth” (2:16; cf. Hebrews 4:12).
Put simply: to go against the word of Christ is to go against the person of Christ. “Therefore, repent” and Jesus will (like how Adam named animals, and Jesus renamed Peter) demonstrate His authority by claiming His people. An exclusion from pagan parties, but an inclusion to Christ’s presence.
4). The Church in Thyatira (2:18-29)
When a church has a toleration for false teaching (2:19): a mixing of false belief systems into churches, Jesus will judge the false prophet (i.e. teacher) and her followers with “great tribulation” (2:22-24).
Jesus again commands them to repent; and as a gracious Master and Lord, He shows us the superiority of knowing Him by receiving the co-reign with Christ over all the nations (2:25-27).
Christ is better than any and all sexual pleasures, financial amounts, material blessings, and earthly joys. To reign with Christ in glory is better than reckless living without Christ on earth.
Churches must live in a godly fear of Christ and His power and “hold fast” to His teaching no matter the situations and allures of the world (2:25).
5). The Church in Sardis (3:1-6)
This city at one time had an undefeatable citadel — but was overtaken because the armies on guard duty fell asleep! Therefore, Jesus says they “have the reputation of being alive, but [they] are dead.”
He commands them “Wake up, and strengthen what remains,” (3:1-2). Those who were executed in the first century had their names erased from the city registry; but Jesus promises that He will keep them and confess their names before His Father (3:5).
Churches must stay awake to slothfulness and Christians must stay awake to drifting further and further away. We do not drift towards holiness, but naturally only away from holiness.
Cling to Christ, strengthen your resolve through His Word, prayer, and a healthy church — and you will persevere to the end.
6). The Church in Philadelphia (3:7-13)
Christians may be excluded from community with the world and with false religions (3:9), but Jesus Himself will include them into His door that cannot be shut by anyone (3:8-9). Jesus gives them breath-taking assurance by stating His love for them and His keeping of them (3:9-10).
Therefore, “hold fast…so that no one may seize your crown” (3:11). Christ treasures any church that treasures Him.
Historically, Philadelphia had many earthquakes and aftershocks. Therefore, people would flee the city and stay out — an emptied city from fear!
But Jesus promises them “a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall [they] go out of it,” (3:12). This is an encouraging letter to a faithful church.
Jesus will both establish His church and vanquish their foes (3:9). Remain steadfast, church. Christ is coming again to secure His elect and to vanquish His and their foes.
7). The Church in Laodicea (3:14-22)
Laodicea was known to be a wealthy city that produced black wool, expensive eye salve, and was a banking center. They appeared to be self-sufficient!
Historically, their water supply came through cold but would be tainted by warm water from the hot springs in Hierapolis that was used for bathing. Lukewarm water is useless (3:15).
They boasted of being rich and clothed and needing nothing, but Jesus says that spiritually they are miserable and blind and naked (3:17).
Jesus charges them to find their all in Him (3:18). He stands at the “door and knocks” (3:20). Nobody notices that Jesus isn’t in the church and has found apparent sustenance away from Him.
Therefore, open the door and He will “grant [you] to sit with [Him] on [His] throne,” (3:21). Churches must not evaluate their success by their appearance to the world, but by their adherence to Christ.
God’s delight in a church is not great funds, but great faithfulness. If Christ is your all, you have all.