Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 2 and 3
Timothy J. Westendorf
Revelation is symbolic.
That’s important to remember, and symbolic numbers play a big role. The number seven (7) is the most common. It is used multiple times in the first chapter. The entire revelation can be conveniently divided into seven parts or visions, with the number seven appearing throughout.
Revelation isn’t the first time God uses that number. In the Old Testament the number is also used. While God doesn’t reveal why he chose seven, its association with his covenant seems rather clear. A comforting suggestion could be this: Three is the number for God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit); four is the number of the world (four directions); and the sum of these numbers (3+4=7) represents the reconciliation of God and humankind through Christ Jesus.
Keep that thought in mind as we move forward. The first vision contains a command from Jesus for John to write letters to seven churches.
What are we to learn from these letters? Some see only prophecy of future events, even seven different and distinct eras of the church’s history. Context, however, leads us more naturally to conclude that Jesus is speaking about “what is now” (1:19).
These were real, ancient, historic cities in Asia Minor where there were real, historic Christian congregations. Real, historic people were the members of those churches. God’s redeemed children, living with their own weaknesses and in enemy territory, were dealing with conflicts from within and without. It was messy. It was tough. False teaching. Flagging love. Ungodly living. Persecution. Poverty. Indifference. Weariness.
Sound familiar? It was no different for those churches than it is for ours today. And so, we hear Jesus’ words to ancient congregations as his words to Christian congregations in every age and place. Some might hit home more in your place and time than mine. They might apply differently at different stages in the history of individuals, congregations, and church bodies. But they are meant for us, the church militant, struggling in this world. “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (written multiple times in Revelation chapters 2 and 3).
Go ahead and read the letters. Do you feel comforted? Maybe not. Perhaps you feel convicted. Is your own natural heart exposed by Jesus’ words? Do these letters paint an uncomfortably accurate picture of your congregation or synod?
Jesus isn’t bashful about pointing out our shortcomings. But he does so in love. He knows the danger posed by unrepentant sin. He knows the damage caused by false teaching and ungodly living. And so he lovingly calls on his people to repent of sin that so easily traps them. He always does this so he can comfort us with his word of redemption and restoration. So be convicted, but also be comforted by his forgiving grace.
What about when you are persecuted and feeling weak? Hear the voice of Jesus tell you that he knows you and what you are experiencing, just as he knew these ancient believers. Hear him invite you to find comfort in his promises. Victory over every enemy is yours alone in him. The gracious prize of heaven itself awaits those who faithfully cling by faith alone to him. Hide yourself in him, and find your peace and strength and hope in him.
Reflect on the Revelation chapters 2 and 3
1. With which of the seven churches do you most relate? Why?
Answers will vary.
Ephesus (2:1–7): Perseverance and faithfulness.
Smyrna (2:8-11): Earthly poverty and affliction but still rich.
Pergamum (2:12-17): Faithfulness to Jesus but need to repent.
Thyatira (2:18-29): Growth “more than you did at first;” do the Lord’s will to the end.
Sardis (3:1-6): Wake up. The names of the faithful will not be blotted from the book of life.
Philadelphia (3:7-13): An open door is before you. You have little strength but have kept his word. Hold on to what you have.
Laodicea (3:14-22): Lukewarm and thinking more of yourself. Jesus stands at the door and knocks.
2. What prayers (for yourself, your congregation, your synod) do these letters prompt?
Answers will vary: Consider the list above and pray:
Dear Jesus, forgive (me, my church, my synod) for (my, our) . . . (choose from list) . . . and protect (me. us) from . . . choose from the list). Send your Holy Spirit so that (I, we) can grow in faith and . . . (choose from list). Hear my prayer because I am your child through your suffering and death. Amen.
This is only a possible pattern for your prayer. You certainly are free to pray a prayer of your own making.
3. Which description and/or promise of the Savior do you find most comforting? How will you remind yourself of that comforting truth this week?
Answers will vary.
Here are some suggestions. You are free to choose something different.
Ephesus: “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life” (2:7).
Smyrna: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown” (2:10).
Pergamum: “You remain true to my name” (2:13).
Thyatira: “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are not doing more than you did at first” (2:19).
Sardis: “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent” (3:3).
Philadelphia: “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (3:8).
Laodicea: “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” (3:20).
How will you remember? Here are a few suggestions:
- Write a note.
- Underline what you chooseas the most comforting promise.
- Memorizeone verse from each letter.
- Reread one letter each day this week.
This is the second article in as 12-part series on the book of Revelation.
Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019