Dear Church Family,
In the adult Sunday School class, we have been studying the book of Revelation. After a few weeks of introduction, we have now also completed our study of the first three chapters of this last book of the Bible. Because the symbolism of this book can be confusing, Christians often misinterpret or disregard it. It certainly isn’t the easiest of books in the Bible for modern Christians to understand and apply. However, God intends for the book to be a blessing to those who read, hear, and heed the things which are written in it (Revelation 1:3).
If you haven’t been able to attend this class on Sunday mornings at 9:30 am, I encourage you to do so. If you would like to ‘catch up’ with the class, the audio recordings and handouts from the class are available on the audio page of our website: http://providencemidland.org/audio (within the link for each lesson, the handouts are available for download where it says, “Text: bulletin”). So far, there are three handouts: Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapters 2-3. And, in an effort to make it as easy for you to jump in at this point of our study as we begin chapter 4 this coming Sunday, below is a brief overview of chapters 1-3.
There are basically four themes which arise out of the book of Revelation: (1) Christ promises to be present with His Church; (2) The world will persecute and hate the Church; (3) Those who persecute and hate the Church will receive God’s judgment; (4) Christ will be victorious and His people will conquer with Him. Revelation 17:14 summarizes the main point of the book of Revelation: “These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.”
The book of Revelation is comprised of seven sections that are progressive and parallel in nature. These seven sections are progressive with regard to an emphasis on the final judgment; as one reads through the book of Revelation, the descriptions of the return of Christ intensify. These seven sections are also parallel in nature in that each section presents the time in history between the first and second coming of Christ. The outline of the book of Revelation which we are using in the class is as follows:
(1-3) Christ in the midst of the seven golden lampstands
(4-7) The book with seven seals
(8-11) The seven trumpets of judgment
(12-14) The woman & man-child persecuted by dragon & his helpers (the beasts & the harlot)
(15-16) The seven bowls of wrath
(17-19) The fall of the great harlot and of the beasts
(20-22) The judgment upon the dragon (Satan) followed by the new heaven and earth, new Jerusalem
Revelation: Chapter 1
The first chapter of the book of Revelation gives an introductory greeting from the Apostle John, along with a description of how these visions were revealed to him (Revelation 1:1-8). This “Revelation (or Apocalypse) of Jesus Christ” was given by God to Jesus Christ, sent and communicated by His angel, to John, to show Jesus’ bond-servants (Christians) the things which must soon take place (Revelation 1:1).
However, the bulk of chapter 1 contains a vision of Jesus Christ standing in the midst of seven golden lampstands. Using imagery that is similar to that of Ezekiel (1:24-28) and Daniel (7:9-14; 10:4-7), Jesus is described as a fierce, holy Warrior-King who stands in the midst of the seven lampstands, which represent the seven churches of chapters 2-3 (Revelation 1:12-16, 20).
As with every other person who has such a vision in the Scriptures, the Apostle John is overcome with fear and awe: he falls at Jesus’ feet like a dead man. Yet, placing His right hand on John, Jesus reassures him, “Do not be afraid…” (Revelation 1:17-20). The image of Jesus as the Warrior-King standing in the midst of His churches has a two-fold purpose: the vision is intended to encourage God’s people as to the reality of Christ’s defending presence, and the vision is intended to warn God’s people of Christ’s purifying presence. Jesus is concerned about both the survival and the purity of His bride, the Church.
Revelation: Chapters 2-3
Chapters 2-3 of the book of Revelation contain seven letters to seven different churches that existed at the time of John’s writing (in the mid-90s AD). At the same time, these seven letters are encouragements and warnings for Christ’s Church throughout the ages. Therefore, we would do well to pay attention and heed what our defending and purifying King has to say to us.
 Ephesus: The orthodox, but loveless church (2:1-7)
The church in Ephesus is praised for its courageous stand for the truth, its good works, church discipline, and theological rigor – they have been a tireless beacon and defender of the name of Christ. They love and hate the right things. Yet they have forgotten their first love – their love for God as manifested in their love for one another has waned. Therefore, Christ commands them to take the zeal for truth which they already possess and apply that same zeal to their love for the brethren.
 Smyrna: The persecuted, poverty-stricken church (2:8-11)
The church in Smyrna was being persecuted by the Jews of their day – those who had rejected Christ as the promised Messiah. Of the seven churches, Smyrna is only one of two for which Christ does not have any words of reproof. Instead, He encourages them by way of reminder concerning their eternal reward, even in the face of martyrdom: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Though they may suffer physical death, they will not be harmed in the “second death” or final judgment.
 Pergamum: The non-disciplining church (2:12-17)
Though there were some in the church of Pergamum who stood firm in the faith, they have not dealt with some of their members who acquiesced to the pagan practices of those around them – Christians who were partaking in pagan festivals, eating things sacrificed to idols and committing acts of immorality. Christ warns that if they do not repent by dealing with these sinful practices among those in the congregation, He will come and purify the church. The church in Pergamum must deal with the “false sons in her pale.”
 Thyatira: The Loving, but culturally-accommodating church (2:18-29)
Almost a reciprocal of the problem in Ephesus, the church in Thyatira is very loving, and expresses that love well; however, they (like the church in Pergamum) have members of the church who commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. In order to gain social, political, or economic standing in the city, some of the members of the church have adopted the practices associated with emperor-worship. In the letter to Thyatira, though, the emphasis is not on the lack of discipline in the church, but the heinousness of the sin in the church. Those who have not acquiesced are innocent (vv 24-25) and ought to hold fast to the faith; Christ will judge those who have partaken of these sins (vv 20-23).
 Sardis: The peaceful, but dead church (3:1-6)
The church of Sardis is in need of renovation (not the building, but the people). They seem to be in a spiritual stupor, resting on their laurels, secure in their past deeds. Everything is peaceful in the church of Sardis, but it is the peace that one encounters in a cemetery. They have a good reputation, but there is no life – “you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” They must wake up, repent, and stir up their faith or else they will soon cease to be a true church.
 Philadelphia: The powerfully weak church (3:7-13)
Like the church in Smyrna, Christ has no words of condemnation for the church in Philadelphia. And, like the church in Smyrna, this church is also being persecuted by the Jews who have rejected Jesus as the Messiah. This church is described as having “little power” – they are weak. Yet, God promises that His power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). For the believers in Philadelphia who hold fast to the faith and overcome, Jesus promises that their citizenship in the eternal city, the new Jerusalem, is secure.
 Laodicea: The Mammon church (3:14-22)
Of the seven churches, the letter to the church in Laodicea is the only one in which Christ has no words of commendation. They have found security and confidence in their riches and wealth, rather than in their Savior. This false security has blinded them to their spiritual poverty. They are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. They may have the trappings of a faithful community, but they are a whitewashed tomb. They are lukewarm in their faith – they could take it or leave it. The only hope for those in the church of Laodicea is repentance and faith – they must receive Christ and His righteousness as their only hope of salvation, or be lost forever.
Though some parts are perhaps difficult to understand, a diligent study of the book of Revelation gives necessary reminders for the church today: Christ will defend and help His people, even as He cleanses and purifies them in order to present His bride to Himself in all her glory, holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27).
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch