“Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.”
—Revelation 2:11 (NRSV).
(Italics used for emphasis.)
The words of the Lord Jesus to the churches targeted in John’s Revelation propound the grand and authoritative message: obedience pays. Whilst few of these churches were actually found to be acceptably obedient—as God’s standard for obedience is on the Spiritual basis of allegiance to him i.e. of listening to his Spirit—the expounded warning was there’s still time to about-face and rectify the anomalies.
Here’s what Christ said to the churches, which were mentioned, incidentally, probably in physical visitation order:
To Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7)
The Ephesians, whilst they toiled hard, had lost their first love. The letter to the angel at Ephesus is strikingly stark in its polar findings; some strong points of obedience are found, but it’s motivated wrongly—the central star is not Christ. Yet, they’re promised to be able to eat from the tree of life in the paradise of God, if they conquer this problem, coming back to Christ.
To Smyrna (2:8-11)
The angel at Smyrna is warned of the coming persecution and told not to worry, for after ten days of endurance, deliverance with come forth. There is no harm in the second death for those who conquer this fear of persecution.
To Pergamum (2:12-17)
This church was no stranger to persecution—living right in the midst of Satan’s throne. Yet, there’s evidence here that the angel of this church is rebuked for their following of certain false teachers, manifested in sinful practices. Black stone was everywhere in Pergamum—for those who would conquer, a precious, unique white stone was promised.
To Thyatira (2:18-29)
Thyatira was an industrial city and prone to fornication and food offered to idols. To this church acknowledgement is given for their enhanced maturity, yet there’s a fatal flaw—they’ve tolerated a woman, Jezebel; one who calls herself a prophet but is in fact promoting the sins of the city.
The angel is told, however, there are many at this church who Christ ‘will not lay another burden.’ To them who conquer, the morning star will be given; authority over the nations in Christ’s name.
To Sardis (3:1-6)
Again the message is given in such rich imagery the church finds obvious in their context. Sardis had industry in dying garments. Proximity to this image of “white” or “soiled” garments brings home a powerful message. The angel is told that a false reputation for being alive is no good in the presence of God.
The ones who repent of the false deeds of ‘looking good’ (i.e. conquer this sin) will not be blotted out of the book of life; they’ll be clothed in white robes and presented blameless to the Father, in Jesus’ name.
To Philadelphia (3:7-13)
To this angel, it is said, they had limited power but they were still faithful. To this church—for being essentially faithful and blameless—protection is afforded. They’re to be made a “pillar in the temple of my God” (NRSV) and will have the name of God written on them, for they have already conquered.
To Laodicea (3:14-22)
This church was ‘lukewarm.’ Lukewarmness had a special meaning for this church that had insufficient minerals in their water. Useless water was a good image for spiritual lukewarmness. Christ cannot tolerate such lukewarm affection—they were to be spat out of his mouth. In Laodicea was an eye institute, so ‘salve for the eyes’ would have been a austere image.
The ever-graceful Christ, however, gives them a final charge to repent, to hear his knocking at their door. For the one who conquers will have a place before his throne.
© S. J. Wickham, 2009.
Acknowledgement: some information from the New Testament lectures of Dr. Evelyn Ashley is used herein.