Segment 10 - 02.01 - The seven letters
Now, we’re not going to try to cover all seven letters to the churches of Asia, because that would take us into too much detail. But beginning with chapter 2, and this you’ll find in Dr. Hunt’s Study of the New Testament. Great deal once ... I should say this also, the material that I’m using here, the basic foundation for this course, of course, was through my Bible teacher Dr. Herbert Hunt. Many of you knew Dr. Hunt, I’m quite sure of that. Then, of course, it’s been expanded with my own research and that sort of thing.
Basically, it’s Dr. Hunt’s course and then expanded to some degree. And this idea is brought out here first of all on chapter 2. He says, “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write.” What you see here, the seven letters are written kind of in seven parts. The symbology of seven makes itself evident throughout the whole book of Revelation. The symbology is this, first of all, there is a designation. The designation of to “whom the letter is written” and we’re just going to use this first one as an example.
It says, “To the angel,” or the minister or whoever is in charge really, “Of the church in Ephesus write. The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” Number one, you see this designation to the church and to the angel of the church. That means the minister or the person in charge, and then secondly, you have a little piece of mosaic, the second part of the first verse.
“The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” You’ll see that in each of the letters in this little piece, it refers back up to a part of the picture of Jesus that he just painted and he makes the tie in there, very clever writing, beautiful writing.
The second thing after the designation is this little piece of mosaic that he brings right in and then that refers back in part to this picture of Jesus that he has painted here to set the whole tone. The next thing we see is a word of commendation. He commends the church and here just follow along with me, you’ll find this in verses 2 and 3 of chapter 2. He says to the church, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men, but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake and you have not grown weary.”
He gives them a nice word of commendation, but he plays in a sense what is called today the game of good news, bad news. First, he gives them the good news, and then comes the bad news. Because right after the word of commendation, he has a word of condemnation. Commendation, then condemnation and look at the next couple of verses ... The next verse, verse 4.
He says, “But,” would you love to hear that? When someone gives you a pat on the back and praises you then says “but”, “however” and here it comes. “But I have this against you that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” He says, “You have abandoned the love you had at first.” In each of these letters, you’ll see this little word of condemnation. Commendation then condemnation.
But there’s one curious thing, one of the letters is written to the church of Philadelphia, and there is no word of condemnation to Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, if you will. For whatever reason, you don’t find the condemnation in that one particular section in the letter to the city of Philadelphia. I guess, there’s no condemnation in Philadelphia, whatever you want to make of that, the city of brotherly love.
Well, the third thing is the word of commendation, then condemnation. Then it has a little call to repentance and here we find it in verses 5 and 6. “Remember them from you have fallen. Repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent. Yet, this you have ...” And then he goes on here, yeah, this is still the call to repentance, “Yet, this you have, you hate the works of the Nicolaitans which I also hate.” And that was a heretical sect that was not very popular with the Christians during that time.
This is a little call to repentance and then what he has is a little chant and the first part of verse 7, you see a little chant each time. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches.” He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches, and then in the second part of verse 7 and this is the seventh part of the whole thing here, he has a little promise, a provisional promise.
He says, “To him who conquers, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.” He gives him a little promise. “To him who conquers.” In other word, to those who stand fast in the faith, to those who are willing to hold true to the church and that sort of thing. In the face of persecution, you’re going to have a reward. To him who conquers, something wonderful is going to happen.
You see these seven parts brought out except in the letter to the city of Philadelphia. In all of the seven letters to the churches, and basically overall, what is he telling the churches? He is telling the churches to clean up their own spiritual household so that when Jesus returns, they will be prepared. Be ready for the Second Coming, and he just doesn’t pick things out to talk about, he knew of some of the challenges within those individual churches.
Within the context in each of these letters, he’s bringing out something that has to do with happenings of that day, happenings within the city. He had an idea of what some of their challenges were. If you go for just a moment down to verse 12 where this is the letter to the angel of the church at Pergamum. We’re still in chapter 2, to the angel of the church at Pergamum write, “The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword, but I know where you dwell where Satan’s throne is.” There’s a reference to Satan’s throne because in Pergamum in those days, there was a great temple that had been constructed to Zeus, the altar of Zeus and probably this is a reference to Satan’s throne, to Zeus being called Satan’s throne.
What he’s telling the people is that you’re being forced into emperor worship in the city of Pergamum where Satan’s throne is, this temple to the great god Zeus. What I’m saying is that he just didn’t pick out things to talk about here. He picked up on things that were happening within the cities of that time. In some cases, it can be pretty clear what he’s referring to. In other cases, we’re not quite sure.
But overall, basically, you’ve got these seven letters to the churches in Asia and what they’re really saying is, he’s telling the people in order to be delivered from this persecution, let’s clean up our own spiritual household first and we must be prepared in that way if we expect God to act in our behalf. When Jesus comes back, then we’re going to be ready and we’re going to be counted in that number so to speak. A little bit later on, he gives a specific number, not to be taken literally, only symbolic.
This is the first section and you see how he has set the scene here now, the letters to the seven churches in Asia. This goes on through chapters 2 and 3. You’ll see some very familiar verses particularly in chapter 3. This is where he’s writing here now to the church in Philadelphia. Go down to verse 8 of chapter 3, you’ll see a familiar verse, one we all love and can respond to metaphysically.
He says, “I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door which no one is able to shut.” Don’t you like the sound of that? An open door. Everybody likes to think in life that we have nothing but open doors in front of us, and I have set before you an open door. God is always opening the way for us if we’ll allow ourselves to walk through those open doors and be guided.
When someone closes the door, it isn’t God closing the door. Who closes the door? We do in some way through our consciousness by saying no. But he uses this idea here of an open door and he goes on to make his point in particular to the church of Philadelphia. Then, he goes on in verse 14 and he writes now to the church of Laodicea in verse 14 of chapter 3. Apparently, they were kind of on the fence, back and forth, sometimes I supposed they gave in to the idea of emperor worship and sometimes, they were faithful to their own Christian beliefs.
But look at what he tells them here in verse 15. He says, “I know your works. You are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.” Those are kind of strong words. But remember, this is kind of a strong book because he’s making a very strong point and he’s probably speaking here to people who were kind of lukewarm just as you and I might be at times.
When we don’t follow through on divine guidance, when our faith begins to waver, that’s something that happens to all of us. But have you ever felt that you’re kind of riding the fence and straddling the fence and not going one way or the another, not being either cold or hot? And then finally, you’ve got to go one way or the other. Well, he’s kind of condemning the church in Laodicea for this whole thrust for not getting off the fence, for continuing to straddle the fence and not going all the way with their faith.
Then, go on down to verse 20 as he builds up this whole idea because we’re ready to enter something here now. In verse 20, he says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me. He who conquers,” and here’s that little provisional promise again, “He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne as I myself conquered and sat down with my father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches.”
He’s talking about this open door and the God, Jesus, in this case, is right there behind the door ready to open the door. He says if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I’ll come into him and eat with him. You’ve got this whole setting now, when we finish up with these letters to the seven churches of Asia, where there’s an open door and something is ready to happen.