Personal Letters from the MessiahJan 19, 2023
Letter-writing and travel were a common communication in the first and second century Roman Empire. These seven letters from the Lord Jesus were remarkable, if not only because they were direct letters from Christ to the churches. But they were also standouts because they can be understood and applied in three different ways.
Hi everyone, I’m Tammy Becker. Welcome to the Almighty God & Gospel Girl Podcast. This is week four into our brand-new series of Revelation and our podcast today is titled: Personal Letter’s from the Messiah. My podcast today will be based on the reading of Revelation chapter 2:1-7. And if you would like to follow along with the notes or maybe you would like to find the links to anything mentioned in the podcast today, you can go to the link in the description or by visiting www.youministries.com and visiting the corresponding page. As we get started today, I would like to remind you that as always…do not take my word, or anyone’s word for what you read…get yourself in the Bible and let God discern His Word to you. I am only human and make many mistakes and do not claim to know or understand everything in the Bible…I just hope by bringing out this study that your interest is sparked enough to get into God’s Word and begin to deep dive on your own.
It begins with the church, the body of Christ. Jesus loves the church and gave Himself for it. The Father gave Him this body of believers, and it is for us Jesus prayed in John 17. In this second section of Revelation, we see things that are—church-related things. The church as a body is mentioned 19 times up to chapter four and then is conspicuous by its absence. Not once after that is the church referenced, as it has been taken out of the world, removed from the earth. Leading up to that, the Lord Jesus Himself sent seven letters to seven churches with unique and challenging messages.
We still have a mystery to solve as to how the letters to churches that existed 2,000 years ago can be the things that “are”, remember what Revelation chapter one verse 19 said,
REV. 1:19 “Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.
So let’s move into Part 2 and understand Jesus’ counsel to His Church, the things which are, seven letters written to seven churches of John’s day
- Beginning with an understanding of how we must approach the interpretation of these letters
- Based on how these letters are structured and what they contain, we must use three, complimentary methods of interpretation
- All three methods are valid and each provides us with unique insight Jesus wanted us to have
- First, we must read these letters literally, taking them exactly for what they say
- They are real letters, written by Jesus through John’s hand
- They had real audiences in mind, men and women who lived in John’s day
- These letters made their way to their intended audiences in Ephesus, Smyrna, and elsewhere exactly as Jesus intended
Letter-writing and travel were a common communication in the first and second century Roman Empire. These seven letters from the Lord Jesus were remarkable, if not only because they were direct letters from Christ to the churches. But they were also standouts because they can be understood and applied in three different ways. First, they had a direct message to the local churches of John’s day—real people in a real place. But they also, all seven, paint a composite picture of the church in all ages. When we read each one, there’s a message for you and your church today. Lastly, the seven letters also track with the panoramic history of the church, from Pentecost to the Second Coming, from the Upper Room to the upper air. Each letter representing seven distinct periods of church history. For example, Ephesus represents the apostolic church; Laodicea represents the apostate church. What they tell us about church history is largely fulfilled and now on the record, which makes these chapters extraordinary.
When John wrote down this vision, he delivered each one of the letters to the seven churches in a well-defined and definite format that includes these elements:
- Jesus Christ, glorified, was emphasized in addressing each church.
- Each letter is addressed to the “angel” of each church. An angel is a human messenger, likely the pastor of the church.
- Most of the letters begins with the words, “I know your works,” and all with the implication.
- Most start with a word of commendation, and then a word of condemnation. The exception is there is no word of condemnation to Smyrna or Philadelphia. Smyrna was the martyr church, and Philadelphia, the missionary church, was getting out His Word. Jesus has no word of commendation for Laodicea, the apostate church.
- Each letter ends with the warning, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Now, let’s explore one of these seven remarkable messages and take to heart what the Lord Jesus is saying to them and to us.
- And we start with the name of each church and its historical setting
- Ephesus was a port city located on the Mediterranean Sea
- Its name meant “desirable” or “desired”
- It was one of the chief seaports connecting the Eastern and Western ends of the Roman Empire
- The tremendous flow of goods through this port helped make the city very wealthy
- Seaports bring ships and ships bring sailors and travelers, so this city featured many temples devoted to many Roman gods
- The largest was the temple to Artemis or Diana filled with prostitutes
- And in the midst of this hustling, bustling city we also have one of the largest most influential churches in the first century
- It counted Paul, John and Timothy among its leaders over the years and it features prominently in Acts and the Epistles
Letter One: TO THE CHURCH IN EPHESUS: LOVE ME AGAIN!
We have two epistles to the Ephesians—one that Paul wrote and now this one that the Lord Jesus gave through John. Ephesus, called the “Light of Asia,” was a fabulous place when John and Paul lived there in the first century. Paul came to Ephesus on his third missionary journey and sent the Word of God out from the school of Tyrannus. Of this experience Paul wrote, “For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:9).
Later John, the “apostle of love” and the “son of thunder,” came to Ephesus as a pastor. He was exiled to Patmos, where the Lord gave him this Revelation, then after ten years of exile and prison, returned to Ephesus. As a result of their ministries here, a huge number of people had turned to Christ. Acts 19:10 says that everyone who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus , both Jews and Greeks. Not everyone turned to Christ, but everyone had heard. Even the Roman emperors and the nobility of that day heard the gospel. This was probably the greatest movement of the Spirit of God that never has been duplicated in the history of the church. The gospel had such an impact on Ephesus that four great towers were placed at the harbor entrance, each inscribed with the emblem of the cross and individually dedicated to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. One pillar still stands today, bearing the symbol of the cross. Other evidences of the gospel’s impact are the many pagan temples turned into churches. Ephesus was both the religious and commercial center of the world, influencing both East and West—Asia and Europe. When Paul landed at the harbor in Ephesus, he looked down “Harbor Boulevard,” all in white marble. He walked by magnificent buildings and temples. A large market sprawled on his right as he went up the boulevard, and ahead of him on the side of a mountain was a theater that seated 20,000 people. Off to his left, sat an amphitheater that welcomed audiences of over 100,000. It hosted destination resorts where emperors vacationed.
But to say “Ephesus” in the first century, anyone immediately thought of the temple of Diana, one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was the largest Greek temple ever constructed, four times larger than the Parthenon in Athens. The temple served as the bank of Asia with a vast depository of money. It boasted an art gallery. But behind a purple curtain stood the lewd and crude image of Diana, the goddess of fertility. She was many-breasted, carried a club in one hand and a trident in the other, and was the most sacred idol of heathenism. Worshipped by more people than any other idol at the time, “Diana of Ephesians” demanded the basest religious rites of sensuality and the wildest sexual deviances, both excessive and vicious.
This was the world before which the church at Ephesus stood as a light in the darkness. Jesus Christ—described here as holding the church in His hand, well under His control—walks up and down, judging the seven golden lampstands.
He has seven words of commendation for this church (vv. 2-3):
- “I know your works.” Jesus is speaking now to believers. The Lord Jesus never asks the lost world for good works. But after you’re saved, He encourages us with all we can do for Him as Spirit-filled believers. (See Ephesians 2:8-10, 5:18, and Titus 1:16.) He tells them, “Well done.”
- “I know … your labor.” Labor, unlike just work, implies weariness. The Ephesians church works hard but is weary.
- “I know … your patience.” Yet even in their weariness, they bear it patiently (the fruit of the Spirit).
- “You cannot bear those who are evil.” They would not endure evil men.
- “You have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars.” They tested everyone who came to Ephesus claiming to be an apostle. They would ask them if they had seen the resurrected Christ. If they were liars, they asked them to leave town. The Lord Jesus commended them for testing people who said they spoke for God; this is needed today more than ever.
- “You have persevered and have patience.” For Jesus’ name’s sake they were bearing the Cross. They preached Christ. They believed in the virgin birth of Christ; they believed in His deity; they believed in His sacrificial death and resurrection. And they paid a price for their belief.
- “And have not become weary.” You can get weary in the work of Christ, but it is tragic if you get weary of the work of Christ. They still wanted to work for Him; they were just tired.
These words of commendation the Lord Jesus gave to the local church at Ephesus also apply to the period of church history between Pentecost and a.d. 100, which the Ephesian church represents. Now He has one word of condemnation: “You’re leaving your first love” (v. 4). They had lost that intense and enthusiastic devotion to the person of Christ. The Holy Spirit had brought the believers in Ephesus into an intimate and personal relationship to Jesus Christ. Their love for the Lord was very important to Christ. And they weren’t yet too far gone, but they were on their way. Their doctrine was on track, but their personal relationship to Jesus Christ was drifting.
What should they do about it? The Lord said, “Remember ….” “Remember what it was like when you first came to Me.” Remember what Jesus meant to you. If you’ve become cold to that memory—stir it up. You can get back to that same place.
“… And repent” (v. 5). Christians need to repent—likely often and sincerely. We need to break the shell of self-sufficiency, the crust of conceit, the shield of sophistication, the veneer of vanity, get rid of the fake religious words and looking like we’re some great saint. Repent! Repentance means to turn back to Him, and it’s the message for believers. Unsaved people do not repent. Instead, they need to turn to Christ for salvation. When they turn to Christ, they will turn from their sin (see 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). But the church—we need to remember, repent, and return to Him.
Or else. That’s right, if we refuse to turn back to God, He says, “I will … remove your lampstand.” Christ is still watching the lamps, and He doesn’t mind trimming the wicks or even using the snuffer when a lampstand refuses to reflect His light
Then Jesus told them, “You do have this to your credit: You hate the Nicolaitan business. I hate it, too.” There was a man, Nicolaus of Antioch, who led a cult that taught you must indulge in sin in order to understand it. (Remember these Ephesians lived their days in front of the temple to Diana.) This cult gave themselves over to sensuality, saying such sins didn’t touch the spirit. The church in Ephesus hated it. A little later on we’ll see that the church in Pergamum tolerated it.
“Do you hear this warning?” the Lord asked (v. 7). Not everyone can hear the Word of God. They may register the audible sound, but they miss the message. The Lord Jesus prompts this phrase to alert dull ears and prompt spiritual perception. (He used this phrase a lot in the Gospels.) Listen to what the Spirit, the teacher of the church, is saying.
As a genuine believer, you can overcome this through the blood of the Lamb. In fact, the overcomers will “eat of the tree of life.” Remember in the Garden of Eden that man was forbidden to eat of the Tree of Life (see Genesis 3:22-24)? But in heaven the “no trespassing” sign will be taken down, and we will all have the privilege of eating of the Tree of Life. We are going to live as we have never lived before in God’s new garden. The “tree of life” also shows up four times in Proverbs, and its use there helps us understand why it’s in Genesis and Revelation. Solomon calls trees of life “wisdom” (Proverbs 3:18), “righteousness” (Proverbs 11:30), satisfied hope (Proverbs 13:12), and “wholesome [speech]” (Proverbs 15:4). These are all the fruits that Adam would have had and what the Lord will provide the overcomers.
This was the hope of the church of Ephesus—the apostolic church, the church at its best.
So the letter to Ephesus gives us a general overview of how the church collectively evolved in its earliest days
- It started with its first love, fully aware that it was all about Christ and eagerly awaiting His return
GET THE FREE DEVOTIONALS:
SIGN UP NOW AND GET 52 WEEKS OF CHRISTIAN DEVOTIONALS FOR ENTREPRENEURS SENT DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX.
Download a FREE digital Micro Bible Journaling Page
Share your design talents with the world.