Today’s reading: Revelation 1-3.
Revelation begins with the end in sight.
Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:7-8
It’s not a gospel book of the good news about Jesus, or a historical account like Acts, or an instructional letter. It is an apocalypse. In modern usage that implies the end of the world, but in terms of Revelation it refers to a title, a theme, and a style. This book is, literally, the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, meaning the unveiling or uncovering. Something mysterious or hidden is being revealed. That is the title and theme. The style of the book is also apocalyptic, and that style gives meaning to the message of Revelation. Apocalyptic writing, like that in the book of Daniel, includes symbolism, dreams or visions, angelic interpreters, symbolic numbers, forecasts of the end times, and an expectation that this world will have to pass away to make room for a better future. Like Daniel’s vision which was sealed up until the end time, it may also mean that parts of Revelation will not make sense until the time of its fulfillment.
This is the Apocalypse of Jesus. He is its author and its subject. Revelation emphasizes that Jesus is eternal. He has existed since before the creation of the universe. He will still be ruling when this world melts away and is replaced. He is ever-present. He stood among the churches in the days of John the apostle and he still stands among his churches today. He is pre-eminent. To say he is first and last speaks of his superiority in time but also his exceeding greatness in character. He is expected. His coming again is near, so that we must remain watchful for his return.
Revelation speaks of things that have been, the time when Jesus walked the earth in human form. It speaks of things that are, the present age when Jesus walks among his churches in spirit. It speaks of things to come, when Jesus will return to reign on earth.
Above all else, Revelation is a message to the churches, and it conveys a pastor’s or shepherd’s concern, whether that be Jesus or the apostle John, for the congregations of the churches. I don’t believe the seven churches of Revelation symbolize seven periods of world history – these were real churches – but they do exemplify strengths and weaknesses of many churches and they illustrate how Jesus interacts with his body of believers.
Ephesus: the church that abandoned its early love for Jesus. To them he is the one who holds them in his hand and walks among them. He commands them to repent, but commends their perseverance. Those who overcome will eat from the tree of life. If we love Jesus greatly we will receive the gift of eternal life.
Smyrna: the church facing persecution. To them he is the first and last, the one who died and rose to life. If they remain faithful, even to death, they will receive the crown of life. Those who overcome will not be hurt by the second death. Persecution will not destroy our faith because believers do not face spiritual death.
Pergamum: the church with false teachers. To them he is the one with the two-edged sword. Jesus commands them to repent, or he will fight against them. Those who overcome will receive the hidden manna and a white stone with a new name written on it. Believers have a unique relationship with Jesus by which he nourishes and strengthens them.
Thyatira: had a false prophetess. To them he is the one with eyes like fire and feet like burnished bronze. Unless they repent, those who commit adultery with the false prophetess with suffer. Those who overcome will receive authority over the nations and will be given the morning star. Believers will govern the nations when Jesus returns.
Sardis: had fallen asleep. To them he is the one who holds them. Jesus told them to wake up or he would come like a thief. Those who overcome will receive white clothes and their names will never be removed from the book of life. The righteous actions of believers are a confirmation that they will receive eternal life.
Philadelphia: had patiently endured. To them he is the one who holds the keys, opening what no one can shut and shutting what no one can open. Because they have patiently endured, he will keep them from the trial coming upon the whole earth. Those who overcome will be a pillar in the temple of God, in the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. The body of Christ, the church, will be a living temple in the New Jerusalem.
Laodicea: had only a lukewarm faith. To them he is the faithful and true witness, the ruler of creation. He counsels them to buy true gold from him, and white clothes, and salve to cure their blindness. He stands at the door and knocks. Those who overcome will sit with him on his throne. Those who accept Jesus as Lord will rule and reign with him.
Jesus calls to the overcomers because there will be much to overcome in the days ahead. Those who endure the difficult times will enjoy eternal blessings in the new heaven and earth.