The seven churches mentioned in turn through Revelation Chapters 2 & 3 are all situated in a small geographic area in south west Turkey.
The letters that John wrote to them were given to him using Jesus’ own words which makes them quite special among all the New Testament writings. Apart from some sentences in Acts to Paul, there are no other places in the NT where Jesus speaks after his ascension like this that I can recall.
A messenger could go to each church delivering the message for that church in the order in which they were written. However there is no doubt that though each church had a specific message (or at least the angel of that church did), the message of each letter was of value to all the churches.
Each letter follows the same format. Each starts with an address to the angel of the church. What exactly that means is hard to know. I like to think that it means that it is the culture /collective spirit of the church that is being addressed and not just individuals in it or the main pastor or anyone else who may or may not have responsibility in it. It always amazes me how different churches led by the same Spirit can have different spiritual cultures – different angels if you like. We spent 18 years in our first church together and coming up to 15 years in our present one (www.openarms.ie) so we have got to know both pretty well. There is no doubt that the same Holy Spirit that led one also led the other but you would be hard pressed to come across two more different cultures. It seems from the short descriptions that we have that each of the seven churches of Revelation were equally diverse. Is this what is meant by the seven spirits of God (Rev. 3:1, 5:6)?
The overall format is:
1) A command to write to the angel of the church
2) A description of Jesus in his glorified state
3) A commendation or praise of the church (only Laodicea doesn’t get this)
4) A complaint or rebuke (but not to Smyrna or Philadelphia)
5) An exhortation or warning
6) A promise to the overcomer (or he who is victorious as the NIV puts it)
It is the last of these sections of the letters that I want to look at in this series of blogs.
It is interesting that the promises to overcomers are set in the context of letters to some local churches. They didn’t have to be. In some ways they don’t have anything to do with the messages to each church and could have stood on their own. I believe that the reason they were put in this context is because the Holy Spirit is indicating that you probably won’t be an overcomer in any other context than full participation in the life of Christ’s body in a local church. A local church is full of those that need a doctor – those who are well rarely come in (Matt. 9:12). The spiritually poor, hungry and often lost people that are welcomed into a healthy church give lots of opportunities for those who have been made well by the grace of God to be overcomers. If you can stick it in a local church it is because you have had to come over and over again to the throne of grace to find help in time of need.
I know, church can be wonderful, just saying…. stick around, overcome…..
Always remember, I could be wrong about anything I write here (1 Cor. 8:2). Let the Holy Spirit instruct you and not me (Hebrews 8:11). And ask your pastor or whoever you trust in this kind of thing if you need to.
[Acknowledgements to SpritandTruth.org for the picture but I have to confess I haven’t read their Revelation commentary – or anything else their writers have written (at least not yet)].