The book of Revelation is perhaps the most difficult book in the Bible to read and to grasp. Jesus gave this revelation of the End Times and what is to come to the seven churches in Asia through the Apostle John. It is the only book in the Bible which promises a blessing upon the reader, and it looks towards things yet to come with great trepidation and hope. Jesus reveals Himself to John standing amongst seven lampstands which represent the seven Churches who were intended to read and apply this prophecy, and then He takes two chapters (or nearly one tenth) of the book to write specific letters to these Churches regarding their individual and specific situations.
Six of the seven Churches to whom Jesus gives the prophecy of the end times are in dire situations. Six of the seven churches have missed the proverbial boat when it comes to the faith. Six of the seven churches are in danger of proving themselves to not even be believers – to have their lampstand removed – to not enter into eternal rest with Jesus. Their six sins are unique, and yet similar at the core: unbelief.
- Ephesus – This church has persevered and toiled hard by performing good deed, but they are doing these good deeds without love for Jesus, they have “left their first love”. The are morally upstanding but have no passion or love.
- Smyrna – This church has been faithful but yet is about about to enter tribulation and some will be thrown into jail. Jesus warns them to hold fast or else they will perish.
- Pergamum – This church was tolerating the false teaching of “cheap grace” – it does not matter what you do because Jesus already forgave it. In essence they were allowing sin and thus abusing the forgiveness and ransom that Jesus offers.
- Thyatira – They have perseverance and good deeds, and are even growing in them, but they have allowed a false prophet to remain and gain a following perpetuating immorality and idolatry.
- Sardis – This church has a name that they are alive but they are dead. They are doing “good deeds” but do not know or honor God.
- Laodicea – Their deeds are lukewarm, Jesus says He will spit them out of His mouth. They do not need God because they are wealthy and self sufficient, they are complacent.
The other Church, the Church at Philadelphia, receives no warning and only praise and encouragement. Philadelphia knows Jesus, loves Him and is obediently serving and honoring him. These six temptations and pitfalls are prevalent today. Many churches in the United States are like Laodicea in that they are so wealthy and comfortable that Church is just an event or “good thing” to do on the weekend, to help us feel more comfortable about the afterlife. Very few of us rely on Jesus daily and focus on earning eternal rewards because we are so fat and lazy here. Many church here in the United States and around the world are much like Sardis and Ephesus in that they have good deeds, but their deeds are of their own strength and not centered in the will and power of Jesus. These churches look really good to the outside world, but they are actually dead.
Many churches also look like Thyatira and Pergamum – not only tolerating but following false teachers. False teachers do not infiltrate the church by preaching some crazy doctrine. They start out sounding solid and Biblical and then slowly drift away from the Truth. They twist the truth just enough to take Jesus out of the equation, and yet still remain convincing. Most tolerated and followed false prophets teach half truths or promise blessings that Jesus simply does not promise, but yet they enchant the follower with their charisma and hope that people are blinded. Turning a boat by one degree at first seems like no variation, but when it travels the length of the Atlantic, it ends up no where near its intended course. So it is with false prophets. And Jesus says that following such a one will lead to damnation.
Lastly, there are churches in the world today like Smyrna, who have a faith but run the risk of apostasy in the face of persecution and tribulation. We know that Jesus does forgive those who fail in a moment of weakness like Peter, but the whole teaching of the Scripture is that those who persevere until the end are those who will be saved. Jesus suffered greatly, and it is promised that all who love and follow Him will also suffer. We will not all experience the same persecution and tribulation, but perseverance in faith through every trial is that which marks true believers. There are some churches in the world who reject the idea that our faith will result in suffering, and there are many who would believe Jesus as long as it requires nothing from them, and thus suffering turns them away from their faith – like the seed sown on the rocky ground.
This admonition of Jesus should be a sobering one for us today. There are churches on every street corner, even in cities that are considered “less churched” in the United States. But Jesus, who sees all and knows all, and who will be the judge over everyone at the end, has pronounced condemnation over six of the seven churches. These are not good statistics, folks.
What does that mean for us? What is our take away? Firstly, we need to examine closely the sins that Jesus says will lead a church away from Him and from salvation, and we need to check ourselves on all of those fronts. Do you know and love Jesus? Do you obey Him and preform good deeds as an overflowing of that love? Are you persevering through trials and persecutions? Are you faithful to the Scripture and not entertaining false teachers? And are you relying on Jesus and storing up for yourself treasures in Heaven instead of here on Earth? If so, then you are living a life like the Church at Philadelphia. If you are unsure, or if you see any of these tendencies in your life, examine the commanded repentance in each situation instructed by Jesus. There is still hope. So long as you can repent, there is hope.
Let us test the Spirits, let us examine our hearts, and let us be ever diligent over our salvation and our souls, so that we do not find ourselves amongst those who thought they knew Jesus but never did. It is not risking eternity for a moment of comfort or pleasure here. Jesus is faithful and will grant salvation to all who call upon His name!
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
– Phil 2.12-13