To the Churches, with Love
The Book of Revelation was written to seven churches in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). But then again, the whole Bible is written to the Church of Jesus Christ spread out over the entire globe. That explains the significance of the number seven, a number signifying completion in the ancient world. God’s word is meant for all of God’s people, wherever they are. And so the message that our Lord gives to each one of these churches is a message for today’s churches as well. And each message is a message of love and hope, love for each church as it was called out of the world into the fellowship of Christ, and hope that each church would endure until the end, in spite of the persecution that each was presently undergoing or would undergo in the immediate future. In short, the Book of Revelation is a love letter written to the Church to encourage her, knowing that such patient endurance will bring eternal rewards.
Almost every church received a commendation and a rebuke (Smyrna and Philadelphia did not receive rebukes; Laodicea received no commendation). Our first two churches are at Ephesus and Smyrna. Ephesus was commended for being a church that knew its stuff. No traveling preacher was going to fool them. They had their doctrine down pat. They also hated the works of the Nicolaitans. We’re not totally sure who they were, but probably a group spreading within several churches of that time, encouraging believers to take advantage of God’s grace by living immorally.
So what was the problem at Ephesus? They had abandoned the love they had at first. In other words, the fervor and warmth they had felt for Christ had diminished. Perhaps it cooled over doctrinal disputes, or maybe just over the passage of time. How zealous we are when we first come to know the Lord, but how complacent we become when everyday life calls us to the hard knocks of living. We need love as well as knowledge to sustain us through the Christian life (1 Corinthians 13). We must remember, knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).
And then there is Smyrna. The Lord had nothing but good to say about this church. He only said that they were poor – but that really they were rich. How many churches are not “successful” by worldly standards – the worldly standards of many churches, that is – but are great citadels of strength by God’s standards! Size and money do not a church make. Holiness, love, knowledge, and power in the Holy Spirit, do.