Cover to Cover
Jesus has messages for the churches, writing to the pastors (the spiritual authority) to share with those churches (2:7). Jesus addresses these pastors in regard to the city to which He called them. At that time in history, the church was just starting to spread, and as far as we know, there was just one Christian church in a city. The purpose of the kingdom was to spread, not to all congregate in a place that had already been reached. Today, we have much larger populations in some cities, and multiple churches – that’s a good thing!
These messages were literal pastors and churches at the time. There were just seven churches that Jesus addressed in Asia, even though we know there were other churches in different places. Even though these were direct messages, we can definitely learn from these principles and apply them today.
In each message, Jesus is communicating that He wants these pastors and their congregations to overcome. God wants us to live in His best. In each message, Jesus gives SPECIFIC spiritual evaluation of each church, letting us know that Jesus is very much aware of everything that goes on in a local church. If we desire to be pleasing to Him, we should seek Him for what He has to say over our church, and when we hear, we should apply it. And if we overcome, we can be sure that Christ will keep His promises. Also notice that in each message, Christ gives a brief description of Himself, and it’s different in each message.
Also, in each message, Jesus said “He that has an ear, let him hear.” We all have ears, and God wants us all to hear; however, to really hear means to have spiritual understanding.
If a church fails to overcome, Jesus says He will remove their lampstand, lifting His anointing, even causing a church to close or be turned over to someone who will make the changes necessary. God’s glory can depart a place (Ezekiel 10:15-19; 1 Samuel 4:19). Being a pastor is not for the faint of heart. If there is repentance, God will continue to bless and the church can remain.
We also see that Jesus wanted the church to address the issues and make the adjustments. He didn’t tell them to leave and start their own church. He certainly didn’t tell them to leave and pull sheep away from their previous shepherd. Jesus didn’t tell them to leave and go to the church down the road. He expected them to identify areas of weakness and work on them. If people would rather leave than work on things, they could be missing out on the blessing that comes from correction and growth. They could miss out on the depth of relationship that comes from resolving conflict. However, even if people fail God continues to love His people and try to lead them in their transformation and development.
EPHESUS: The Loveless Church
Jesus describes Himself as the one who holds the seven pastors in His right hand and walks among the churches. To this church Jesus calls the people to intimacy of relationship.
Jesus also addressed the topic of love with the church at Ephesus. They began with a love for the Lord, but then their love had lessened. We know they were doing good things, but it seems that something changed in their relationship with the Lord. Their love had grown cold.
This church had been through some issues. One, they had to deal with some false apostles. That probably wasn’t pretty. They also confronted sin issues, which typically isn’t pleasant. We know they lacked love for the Lord, so they most likely lacked love in dealing with people. However, this was a church that valued doing the right thing, working hard in the ministry, and persevering through difficulty. They hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which Jesus also hated. Jesus hated their deeds? Indeed, because the Nicolaitans were leading people away from God in idolatry and immorality. Jesus told them to remember back to the time when they grew cold in their love for God. What was the turning point? Whatever it was, repent for making the decision to close your heart from loving God and loving people.
Paul also wanted Ephesus to grow in love. He put Timothy over the church when it started, encouraging Timothy to lead people in representing Christ to their community by loving one another and submitting to one another, yielded in love. He encouraged Timothy to lead people to love God, living a life pleasing to Him, without any kind of compromise or separation.
If they overcome through repentance and refueling that love for Christ, then they will eat from the tree of life in the Paradise of God. This is spiritual sustenance that comes from the Presence of God. Let’s pursue our love relationship with God and encourage God encounters in our gatherings! Our acts of service should come out of a relationship with God, not apart from it.
SMYRNA: The Persecuted Church
Jesus describes Himself as the one who was dead and came to life, as well as the First and the Last. To this church, Jesus encourages them to stay faithful to the death.
Smyrna was located in a large Jewish population, and many of the Jews opposed Christianity. Because they opposed Christ, Jesus called them the synagogue of Satan. They were not born again, and they persecuted the church at Smyrna. They blasphemed Christ, meaning they cursed Him and tried to destroy the kingdom of God. Jesus took notice of the persecuted. They were oppressed for His sake, and He cared for them in their suffering.
These Christians were also living through tremendous hardship and poverty. Smyrna itself was a city of wealth, so it could be that there was an economic boycott on Christians. Jesus knew the future for this church was further persecution, even imprisonment, acknowledging that the devil was behind it. Ten days could be literal, but ten days could also be symbolic of a relatively short amount of time. Jesus asked them to faithful unto death, so some could have been martyred. If they overcome, they are promised not to be harmed by the second death, or eternal damnation.
The same is true for anyone going through persecution or who will go through persecution. If someone is opposing you, harming you, slandering you for the cause of Christ, stay faithful and keep your eyes on your eternal reward.
PERGAMOS: The Compromising Church
Jesus describes Himself as having a sharp two-edged sword. To this church, Jesus calls to repentance, and if no repentance is made, He states that He will fight them with the sword of His mouth.
Jesus was familiar with the cities where the churches were located. The location of where a church is located has unique natural and spiritual environments. It is wise for a pastor and the church to know their community and the spiritual activity that takes place in that region. The Christian can take authority over the enemy in their own life; however, the Christian cannot overpower everything. A pastor can take spiritual authority over the local church; however, the pastor cannot take authority over everyone or everything. If there are people who oppose Christianity, we can pray, we can declare, we can bind the enemy; however, we cannot do more than God can do, and God will not overpower the will of a person or a group of people.
Jesus told this church, I know your location; I know your city. Pergamos was the center of emperor worship, as well the place where the god Aesclepius was worshipped. There was also a 200-ft statue to Zeus in Pergamos. The city was the official seat of the Roman government. Jesus called it where Satan’s throne was. The first Christian to be martyred in Asia was in Pergamos (Antipas).
Jesus also knew of their works, how they labored for Him. He knew they held tightly onto His name. They were faithful, even after Antipas was martyred, a threat to all the Christians in Pergamos.
Jesus also noticed and brought up areas of reproof. In the church, they taught the Scriptures, but they also tolerated a false doctrine. The false doctrine taught the people to commit sexual immortality and participate in idol worship. This was the same spirit that was working though Balaam. Balaam had caused God’s people to stumble, and this doctrine of Balaam led Christian people within the church to sexual sin and idolatry.
Jesus also brought up the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, as He did with the church at Ephesus, a doctrine Jesus said that He hated. Both the doctrines of Balaam and Nicolaitans led people into sin and compromise.
If they repent and turn away from the false doctrine, Jesus promises a spiritual manna, a spiritual revelation of true doctrine. Interestingly, Jewish mythology said there “hidden manna,” the manna that was in the Ark of the Covenant at the time of the destruction of the second temple during the Babylonian captivity. It was said that Jeremiah took the manna and hid it, keeping it for the time of the Messiah’s reign. Some said it was taken to Heaven by an angel. However, the meaning here is for truth of God’s Word instead of false doctrine.
Jesus promises a white stone with a new name on it. White stones were used in a couple of ways. One, when a jury cast their vote for an acquittal, they would cast a white stone in an urn. Two, special stones were used as tokens, such as rewards in a contest. I believe the meaning here is that Christi will acquit them of their sin and drop the charges against them. The new name could be the new declaration Christ makes over them, a name with His character or as belonging to Him.
THYATIRA: The Corrupt Church
Jesus describes Himself with eyes like a flame of fire and feet like fine brass.
To this pastor and church, Jesus describes qualities of a good church. There is love, service, faith, patience or perseverance, and they accomplished quite a bit, increasing in their ministry.
However, even in a good church, the enemy can gain a foothold. Jesus exposes the enemy so the church will deal with the spirit and be free from it. In Thyatira, Satan was working through a spirit of control and intimidation, naming a woman as Jezebel. Jezebel was queen to King Ahab in 1 Kings.
In 1 Kings we see that King Ahab married a woman from another nation that worship idols, including Baal. Baal’s name means controller or lord. Jezebel married a King, manipulating him to control and even kill the prophets, the voices or messengers, of God. She was also said to use her sexuality to control her husband, so she could have her way.
In the New Testament, the same spirit can be at work in churches, a spirit of control and intimidation. The spirit doesn’t have to work through a woman. It doesn’t have to be sexual in nature. However, in Thyatira, there was sexual sin in the church, there was adultery, and there was intimidation and control. This woman at Thyatira called herself a prophetess, claiming she heard from God and spoke for God, obviously as a way to empower herself over others. She was attempting to intimidate others because she knew things they didn’t know. She was better than them; she had more influence than them. She wanted to have her way so she could gain a position of influence in the church. She would point out where they were missing it or what had gone wrong, so that she would be valued and appreciated as a voice to the pastor or leaders in the church.
The pastor in Thyatira tolerated this woman in his church. He allowed her to have a voice, not only to himself, but also to his church. Because the spirit had access, sexual sin spread, adultery spread, and spiritual authority was compromised.
Jesus was prepared to allow sickness and trouble to come on those who allowed this spirit into the church. Jesus said her children was suffer, even die, so that others would know that Jesus new the minds and hearts of those caught up in this evil. In fact, Jesus referred to this spirit as the “depths of Satan.” The idea of attempting to intimidate and control spiritual authority is as witchcraft.
Don’t be deceived. These church members were Christian people like the people we have in our churches today. They are people we love. They are people of faith. They are people who are considered loving, mature, faithful, hardworking, enduring, and helpful. However, if they try to tell the pastor of that church what to do and how to do it, they could be giving into a spirit of Jezebel. If someone projects themselves as better than the pastor or knowing more than the pastor, they could be giving into a spirit of Jezebel. If that person works to find fault in true leadership in the church, in order to be perceived as having more value, that person could be allowing access to the spirit of Jezebel. Jesus loved them, Jesus asked them to repent, and Jesus encouraged them to overcome.
The overcomer will rule with Christ, underneath His authority. Jesus will reign, and He will reign with certainty, as with iron, and all others will be dashed to pieces, much like when a potter breaks a clay pot. Christ’s lordship is vital to the Christian. Some believe they are submitted to Christ, but they struggle submitting to a pastor, an employer, a political leader, or wife to a husband. Our heart to subject or to rebel against human authority, who we can see, is often a reflection of our true heart towards God. If we are submitted to God, then wives will honor their husbands, not only in appearance or in most things, but an attitude of the heart. If we are submitted to God, then we honor our civil leaders, pastors, and employers. This spirit is often deceptive, appearing to be great in most cases, but get them alone, and the real spirit will show itself, especially when it wants its way.
Jesus also promises the morning star, which is Christ, who rises and reigns over the day. The morning star is another illustration of the authority of our Lord, reigning over us the way the sun rules the day.
These messages give us insight into how the enemy works in the spirit to destroy Jesus’ churches. We have a spiritual enemy, and Jesus doesn’t want us to be ignorant of Satan’s devices. He wants his pastors to rise up and take their authority. He wants churches to stay true to doctrine and holy living. Know there are consequences for siding in with the devil and there are blessings for yielding to God, and then let’s yield to God!
In chapters 9 and 10, Hosea is delivering a message of judgment for Israel’s sin. In chapter 11, Hosea gives a message of God’s continuing love for Israel. His love for Israel and for us is absolutely overwhelming. We don’t deserve His love, yet because He is love, He loves us. We don’t deserve His forgiveness, and yet He forgives. Even if we have angered Him, God is merciful to receive the one turning back to Him.
Here are a few verses on the sinful, adulterous condition of Israel:
· Their heart is divided (10:2)
· Their heart is hardened (10:12)
· Their heart trusted and relied on themselves instead of God (10:13)
· They were bent on backslidding (11:7). Backslidding in the Hebrews means turned, turned away from God. To be bent means to be twisted or distorted from the original design, wicked.
Here are a few verse on God’s mercy and love to restore and reconcile with the sinner:
· His heart churns within Him and His sympathy is stirred (11:8)
· I will not come with terror (11:9)
· He will roar like a lion, gathering His people (11:10-11)
· He will let them dwell in their houses (11:11)
In Hosea, God reveals His heart and depth of love for His people, which now includes the Christian who has been engrafted in through faith in Christ. God knows sin will twist and distort, but He is willing to undo the dysfunction and heal. It is His kindness that draws us to repentance. Oh, what love!