Christian, Listen Up! (Rev 2:1-3:22)


Revelation 2:1-3:22; Key Verse Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:6, 13, 22

"He who has an ear, let him (Whoever has ears, let them) hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (1984, 2011 NIV).

All human beings suffer from a selective hearing disorder. No one ever forgets a pretty girl saying to them, "You're cute." But when our boss calls us into his office to chew us out, we tune him out and don't hear well. We also have selective spiritual hearing disorder. No Christian ever dislikes hearing, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26). But will we listen if God says, as he does to the church in Laodicea, "...because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. ...you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (Rev 3:16,17)? To stress the utmost importance of listening to the Spirit, Jesus repeats 7 times to the 7 churches the exact same plea: "He who has an ear, let him (Whoever has ears, let them) hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

Rev 1:1-20 reveals Jesus as the one who loves us and frees us from our sins by his blood (Rev 1:5). In Rev 2:1-3:22, Jesus addresses the 7 churches in Asia (Rev 1:4,11), which is modern day Turkey. These 2 chapters may be the easiest in Revelations to understand, for they do not have an abundance of difficult symbols and prophesies. But to hear Jesus' assessment, admonition, indictment, rebuke and challenge to the churches may not be easy to hear. Thus, Jesus repeats the exact same encouragement 7 times: "He who has an ear, let him (Whoever has ears, let them) hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

Instead of going through each church in sequence, let us look at all 7 churches together in the following parts:

  1. The Church.
  2. The Commendation.
  3. The Condemnation.
  4. The Command.
  5. The Christ.

I. The Church What are these 7 churches like?

  1. Ephesus: The Loveless Church (Rev 2:4).
  2. Smyrna: The Suffering Church (Rev 2:9-10).
  3. Pergamum: The Worldly Church (Rev 2:14).
  4. Thyatira: The Immoral Church (Rev 2:20).
  5. Sardis: The Dead Church (Rev 3:1).
  6. Philadelphia: The Faithful Church (Rev 3:8,10).
  7. Laodicea: The Lukewarm Church (Rev 3:16).

1 and 7 are in grave danger. 2 and 6 are in excellent shape (no condemnations). 3-5 are in between, nether good nor bad, with 5 being the worst of this lot.

II. The Commendation

  1. Ephesus: Deeds, hard work, perseverance, uncompromising, enduring hardships (Rev 2:2-3).
  2. Smyrna: Affliction, poverty, slander, suffering, imprisonment, death (Rev 2:9-10).
  3. Pergamum: Unwavering in faith (Rev 2:13).
  4. Thyatira: Deeds, love, faith, service, perseverance, doing more than before (Rev 2:19).
  5. Sardis: None!
  6. Philadelphis: Faithfulness, patient endurance (Rev 3:8,10).
  7. Laodicea: None!

Church going, but dead and lukewarm Christians are the worst (Laodicea). But even those with good deeds, hard work, faithfulness, uncompromising, persevering, doctrinally sound, innovative, "improving" churches may be loveless (Ephesus), worldly (Pergamum), immoral (Thyatira), and dead (Sardis).

III. The Condemnation

  1. Ephesus: Lost their first love (Rev 2:4).
  2. Smyrna: None.
  3. Pergamum: False teaching (Rev 2:14-15).
  4. Thyatira: False teaching (Rev 2:20).
  5. Sardis: Fake reputation (Rev 3:1). Incomplete deeds (Rev 3:2).
  6. Philadelphia: None.
  7. Laodicea: Lukewarm (Rev 3:16). Wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, naked (Rev 3:17).

The holy God expects a holy church with holy Christians. Though we may be good in many ways, God is sorry when our love is lacking, when we compromise with the world, when we are pretentious rather than authentic, and especially when we are lukewarm and blindly unaware of our true inner state. On the last day, they will be many who say, "Lord, Lord," but Jesus will respond, "I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers!" (Mt 7:21,23).

IV. The Command: All are encouraged to listen and overcome (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26, 29; 3:5-6, 12-13, 21-22), and they will be blessed. "To him who overcomes" (NIV 1984) is replaced with "To the one who is victorious" (NIV 2011).

  1. Ephesus: Remember. Repent (Rev 2:5). {Eat from the tree of life (Rev 2:7)}
  2. Smyrna: Be faithful (Rev 2:10). {Receive the crown of life (Rev 2:10); not hurt by the second death (Rev 2:11)}
  3. Pergamum: Repent (Rev 2:16). {Hidden manna, white stone, new name (Rev 2:17)}
  4. Thyatira: Hold on (Rev 2:25). {Authority over the nations, morning star (Rev 2:27-28)}
  5. Sardis: Wake up. Remember. Repent (Rev 3:2,3). {Dressed in white, name acknowledged in heaven (Rev 3:5)}
  6. Philadelphia: Hold on (Rev 3:11). {God's name, God's city, new name written on him (Rev 3:12)}
  7. Laodicea: Buy gold, white clothes, salve (Rev 3:18). {Sit with Jesus on his throne (Rev 3:21)}

We should remember God's grace, repent of our sins, and faithfully persevere by his grace. Yet all of these biblical commands and imperatives, even if obeyed, would be unable to save us, for our own deceitful hearts incline toward evil (Gen 6:5), and deceive ourselves (Jer 17:9). Even our very best and pure deeds are like filthy rags (Isa 64:6). Thus, all of these commands are able to give life only because of what Jesus has already done for us on the cross (Rev 1:5). When we remember the grace of Jesus, his commands are never burdensome (1 Jn 5:3). If they are, it is because we fail to understand the gospel on account of our own hearts being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:13).

V. The Christ
  1. Ephesus: Faithful Friend (Rev 2:1).
  2. Smyrna: Living Savior (Rev 2:8).
  3. Pergamum: Warrior Lord (Rev 2:12).
  4. Thyatira: Heart-Searcher (Rev 2:18,23).
  5. Sardis: Judge (Rev 3:1).
  6. Philadelphia: Sovereign King (Rev 3:7)
  7. Laodicea: Ruler of Creation (Rev 3:14)

Despite our incorrigible sins, Jesus is ever faithful to love us (Jn 13:1; Heb 13:8; 2 Tim 2:13). He is our friend who never leaves us or forsakes us (Heb 13:5), and who promises to be with us to the very end of the age (Mt 28:20). He died for us and now lives forever (Rev 1:18), so that we who should die may live. He is the Living Word, the searcher of our hearts and the righteous Judge to help us truly know ourselves, so that we may come clean before him, and be purified. He is the Sovereign King and Ruler of all Creation, the King of kings and Lord of lords, yet he is ever loving and merciful, and rich in kindness, tolerance (forbearance) and patience (Rom 2:4; Eph 2:4; Tit 3:5).

When David stumbled in the sin of adultery and murder, God, through the prophet Nathan, said to him, "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?'" (2 Sam 12:7-9) Though David was blessed in countless ways, he stumbled in sin. Though David was far from God, God's love for him did not change, and through Nathan, called him back to repentance, as recorded in Psalm 51. As David did, may we listen to his word, repent, and overcome by God's help. Behold him, so that by his grace we may be transformed into his image from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18).

Let us hear and listen and take to heart a final word from Rev 3:19-20. "Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me." God is not like a homeless transient who needs to come in to be helped and served by us. The doctrine of divine aseity holds that God is entirely self-sufficient, that he is not dependent upon any other thing either for his existence or for his nature. Our God of aseity (self-existence) has no needs (Acts 17:25; Ps 90:2), including no need of us humans. But God has bound himself to us to share with us his boundless love and joy. Yet in our sin, foolishness and self-deception, we think and live and express ourselves as though we might find fulfillment somewhere in the world and became vile idolators. Despite ourselves, God graciously continues his appeal to the churches and to us to listen to his tender voice, and to open the door of our hearts to him. Will you do so?

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