Recently, I have been studying the book of Revelation.
Now, if you’re like many Christians, a lot of assumptions just flooded your mind to the effect of…
You’re trying to figure out when the world will end!
You think the COVID vaccine is the mark of the beast?!
You think you know when Jesus will come back…but Jesus explicitly says that we won’t know the day or the hour…”even the angels in Heaven and the Son don’t know” (Matthew 24:36).
And to those assumptions I say: I’m not trying to figure out when the world will end, I don’t think the COVID vaccine is the mark of the beast, and I am very aware that we won’t know the day or the hour Jesus will come back…and just like Jesus compels us, I steer clear of any theology that claims we do know the day or hour.
No; I’m studying Revelation because I study every part of God’s Word. I’ve studied it before, and I’ll study it again.
And this time, the Holy Spirit has been putting emphasis on a particular, repeated part of the book: “He who overcomes.”
Now, let’s back up for a second and review what the book of Revelation is.
Here is a great short summary of the book of Revelation by Overview Bible:
John is an exile on the isle of Patmos. His crime: bearing witness of Jesus (Re 1:9). Somebody didn’t want John spreading this gospel message, and so they’d shipped him off to an island. He’s contained.
But now John has received even more news to share.
It all starts one Sunday, when John hears a voice behind him: “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches (Re 1:11).” John turns around to see seven golden lampstands, and among them, the risen Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Jesus gives John a message for seven churches in Asia (modern-day Turkey). Of the seven, one is about to undergo intense suffering (Re 2:10), one has kept His word (Re 3:8), and the other five were faltering in their loyalty to Jesus. The Lord warns the churches that He is the righteous judge, and He knows their deeds. He calls the faltering churches to repentance, and makes seven encouraging promises to those who overcome.*
Then, John is whisked into heaven to witness “what must take place after these things” (Rev 4:1). So begins a long series of prophetic visions for the churches, including:
- A Lamb (who represents Jesus) breaks seven seals holding an old book shut—each time a seal is broken, it triggers an event on earth, some of which are catastrophic (Re 4–7).
- Seven angels blow seven trumpets, and each trumpet blast brings a plague on the earth (Re 8–11).
- A great dragon (Satan) and two beasts make war against a certain woman and the saints (Re 12–14).
- Seven angels pour out seven bowls, and each bowl brings another plague on the earth (Re 15–16).
- The Lamb overcomes the wicked city of Babylon, the dragon, and the beasts, then brings about a final judgment day (Rev 17–20).
- A new heaven and new earth appear, where God and the Lamb dwell with people in harmony forever (Rev 21–22).
John faithfully writes everything down as a prophetic letter to the seven churches, with a closing message from Jesus: “I am coming quickly.”
Today, we’re going to talk about the messages Jesus gives those seven churches in Asia, how that applies to us, and the encouraging call to us to overcome sin and challenges.
First, the Church in Ephesus (Re 2:1-7)
I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
The Ephesian Church has forsaken the love they had at first. They’ve forsaken their “first love.” If you’ve been in the Western church for a minute, you’ve heard this said: “Jesus must be your first love.” We say it; many of us believe it; but do we find it possible to actually live it? Do we find ourselves putting money or our bodies or sex or lust or social media or pornography or food or sports or hobbies or friends or our spouses in front of God?
“The love you HAD at first.” The Ephesian Church, according to Jesus, once had this love, and He is calling them to consider how FAR they have fallen from this first love.
Christ-follower; when you first met Jesus, fell in love with Him, got to know Him; how did you live your life? What were the things you did?
For me, I know that I couldn’t ever get enough of just being in His presence, at His feet. I never wanted to get up from my knees in His throne room. Heaven was Paradise; the world was a dark place that I walked through in fervent prayer, because I saw it for what is was. Jesus was truly my everything. I didn’t need or want the things of the world that I used to; it all looked completely dim in comparison to my Jesus.
But now…am I convicted in this message to the Ephesian church? Yes. His call isn’t a riddle to me, because I know what He means. Slowly, the devil has made things of the world look a little more alluring; my flesh has tried to convince me it knows better than the Spirit; the world has beckoned me.
Jesus knows first-hand these temptations, and yet lived sinlessly. And He is calling us to turn from our sinful ways, repent of them, and “do the things we did at first”: the things we did when we first heeded His call.
When you’re ready, pray this prayer with me: “Lord, I know that I have pursued the world through my flesh. I have allowed the devil to deceive me. Oh, Lord, I repent of loving other things and people more than I love you. Jesus, through your Holy, Holy Spirit, I will do the things I did at first, when you first called my name. I know that I cannot do these things or live for you in my own strength, so, Jesus, would you fill me again? Would you empower me, Lord? Thank you, Jesus.”
Second, the Church in Smyrna (Re 2:8-11)
I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.
It is clear that the church in Smyrna is experiencing great suffering and persecution…of a kind that most of us can’t even imagine. In their case, the Lord Jesus encourages them not to be afraid, for they have no reason to be afraid, and to be faithful, even to the point of death…as Jesus was.
Wow. Can you imagine? Can you imagine being thrown into prison, persecuted for your faith in Jesus Christ, and suffering…faithfully and without fear?
But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God” (1 Peter 2:20).
Again…I am convicted, friends. How often do I suffer (and suffer MILDLY in comparison to what the Lord is talking about here) and suffer impatiently and with fear? I know that, in my own life, when I do experience trials of many kinds, it is ONLY through the Holy Spirit that I find true strength, hope, peace, courage, confidence…and the ability to go on. He must be the One to do it…and that is the “overcoming” once again that He is referring to.
The one who is faithful, even to the point of death? How do we die to ourselves and our wants and our flesh? How do we die…even from this world? Through Jesus alone. When we are in Christ, there is no fear in death! And He says that the one who overcomes this fear of death, and is faithful to Jesus even unto it, will not be hurt at all by the “second death.” What is the second death? Here, Jesus refers to eternal separation from Him; hell. The definition of hell is eternal separation from God. When we don’t choose God…we choose hell (separation from God). He lets us choose, Friends. He is not a God who forces His hand.
Once again, isn’t it incredible how the way to overcome death is…well, death to ourselves? Death, when it’s our time, without fear? Just like the church in Ephesus had to learn to LOVE the right things, Smyrna has to learn to DIE to the right things. Because if we’re not dead to the flesh…we are dead men walking. Life is only through the Spirit.
When you’re ready, pray this prayer with me: “Lord, I know that I have pursued the world through my flesh. I have allowed the devil to deceive me. Oh, but, Lord, I want to walk with you without fear of death, without fear of suffering, and completely faithfully. Holy Spirit, would you live your life through Me? I repent of my fear of the wrong things; help me to fear only You, Lord. With Your Spirit in me, I know I can be faithful to You, even to the point of death.”
Third, the Church in Pergamum (Re 2:12-17)
I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolatians. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
What do we find in Pergamum? Mixture: certain mixture. There is compromise in this church between the things of Jesus’ teachings and otherwise. And teachings other than or in opposition to Jesus are teachings of the devil. It seems as though Pergamum has lost or has never discovered spiritual sight.
How many of us have been enticed by the devil through temptation to sin? Maybe it’s habitual sin that we haven’t been able to shake. Or maybe you’ve literally mixed the teachings and ways of Jesus with those of the devil through another religion (whether that be “religions” such as Buddhism or the religion of secularism/the world). As imperfect beings, we all have been exposed to these counter-Jesus teachings, and therefore have some tendency to mixture in us. Maybe that’s the literally serving of two gods because you grew up in two religions. Maybe that’s trying to serve two gods – Jesus and yourself, through money, pleasure, comfort, food, working out, material things, sex, etc. etc.
Ultimately, once again, the call is to come back to our FIRST love in Jesus, to serve Him and only Him with our whole lives, and to REPENT.
Now, what does it mean to repent?
Contrary to popular belief, repentance is not simply confessing and asking for forgiveness. Anyone can do that. But really, only those filled by the Spirit can repent in the true sense, because repentance is to:
respond to God’s love by being transformed in your convictions and actions. It means turning towards God and away from whatever dishonors Him. Biblical repentance is not about your emotions, your sin, your efforts, or your resolve. It’s about your surrender.
We can’t do this in our own strength, Friends. Or maybe we can by sheer willpower for a matter of days, or maybe just hours, or maybe just minutes, before we turn back to the sin that so easily entangles. But there is GOOD NEWS today! When we receive Christ by believing in Him in our hearts and confessing that He is Lord, and asking Him to be Lord of our lives, we receive His Spirit, one and done, and HE leads us into all knowledge, all conviction, all Truth through His grace.
When we truly repent, we don’t have to “feel” ready or able in ourselves to turn from sin. We have to have a heart disposition that is truly sorry and that truly desires to honour God with our lives, and to ask Him to live through us. As always, THAT is how we “overcome”; and, in this case, receive that hidden life with Him, that hidden knowledge of Him, once again receiving that which we were craving all along.
When you’re ready, pray this prayer with me: “Lord, I have been tempted in all directions…to pursue the world…to believe untruths…to serve myself and life as unto myself. Oh, Jesus, I confess these things to You knowing you already know them, and I repent; I surrender to You today, all things. I pray that You would fill me afresh and live Your life through me. I want to taste this hidden manna; I want to know you deeper and more intimately, God. Help me to live a life that prioritizes this secret-place time with You, to know what is True and to not be deceived by anything that is against your heart. Amen.”
Fourth, the Church in Thyatira (Re 2:18-29)
I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’
To the one who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star.
In Thyatira, we find a prophetess ruling the hearts of many, some who may even know her by name. Who is this Jezebel, you ask?
Jezebel married the 7th king of Israel, Ahab. She “incited [her husband to sell himself to do evil in the sight of the Lord]” (1 Kings 21:25), she mischievously killed a citizen named Naboth so that Ahab could take over his vineyard (1 Kings 21:1-15), and she worshipped the false nature god Baal, among other horrible things.
Now, in Thyatira, Jesus is saying that people are resembling Jezebel far too closely. They are being mislead to sexual immorality, eating food sacrificed to idols, and all kinds of other things, all out of what? Self, selfishness, and pride. Jesus has seen that Jezebel is “unwilling” to repent of her deeds, so He will cast her into suffering. This is a warning, and again, the call is to repentance. You see, again, how ever-gracious our Lord is; but He lets us choose Him. He reaches out to us and calls us back to Him, which always involves repentance from sin.
Personally, I have been enticed by the devil in the ways of Jezebel. I think her sins are ones that lots of women can be tempted by. But the only freedom from such horror is repentance and return to Jesus: and then, through Him, “doing His will to the end”. And, yet again, the reward the Lord brings up here is exactly what Jezebel seemed to be after: authority of the nations. We chase after authority through pride in this world, but it always comes up empty, because the aim of that sort of authority is self-glorification. The kind of authority Jesus wants to give those who overcome and do His will to the end is authority that comes only from the Father, and that can therefore only glorify Him.
When you’re ready, pray this prayer with me: “Lord, I have been tempted from every angle, and I have even given into sin. I repent of _______, and ask you know to fill me afresh and and live your life through me. I pray that you would overcome through me, Lord. I pray that you would have mercy on me, and help me to walk with you and in your ways all the days of my life, with no idols before you. Amen.”
Fifth, the Church in Sardis (Re 3:1-6)
I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
“Fully alive in Jesus”. How many Christians in the room have heard this phrase? Do we know what it really means, what it really looks like to be FULLY alive in Jesus?
In Sardis, the church had a “reputation” of being alive…but the truth was very much the opposite. How might this have been? It’s likely that, from the outside, they had all the bells and whistles…they talked the talk…they “sounded” and “looked” like “Christians”, but did they walk the walk? Did they intimately know Jesus and live life in the Spirit? Or were they essentially going through the motions, sleepwalking through life?
Jesus is saying to these believers, “Wake. Up! Return to me! Come back into my arms, follow me, and do life right with me. You’ve been dead a long time; strengthen the bit of good that remains…you walked with me a while, but stopped…unfinished.” Remember receiving Jesus? Remember how good His Word is? Remember the narrow road? Hold fast to Him, and repent of your dead ways. If you don’t wake up…you will be stunned when He comes back.
But there are a few, Jesus says, just a few in Sardis who haven’t “soiled their clothes” or “gone dead.” These people will walk right alongside Jesus, as they already have been. For those who have gone dead that repent of those ways and come back to Christ, they will get to walk with Him forever, continuing in unity with the Father, like Jesus.
When you’re ready, pray this prayer with me: “Lord, I haven’t been walking fully alive every moment. But, Jesus, I know that your Holy Spirit lives in me, and I want YOU to be the one dictating my every step. Strengthen your Spirit within me, Lord; you must increase, and I must decrease. I repent of my dead works, and ask Your Spirit now to help me live awake and alert. Amen.”
Sixth, the Church in Philadelphia (Re 3:7-13)
I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.
“So, what’s the message in this particular letter? To endure suffering, stay close to Jesus. Keep his word, and you can withstand anything” (Things of the Sort).
Out of the seven churches, only this church and the church in Smyrna received praise from Jesus with nothing against them. And they have little strength; they have been persecuted, many thrown in prison, yet Jesus says they are near to Him and no one can change that. They have endured suffering patiently and with faith in their God; and for this, God will keep them from the hour of trial.
Jesus reminds them that He is coming soon. He encourages, urges them to hold on as they have been, to persevere in the faith, no matter what comes their way.
This is an encouragement to we who have been persevering in the faith. Most of us reading this have not ever come close to experiencing the sort of persecution faced by this church, but the encouragement remains: hold fast to Jesus; continue to keep His Word; and never deny His name. Persevere through suffering of all kinds for His sake and glory.
When you’re ready, pray this prayer with me: “Lord Jesus, thank you for your encouragement. I pray that you would help me to persevere in faith, holding fast to You and not to the world, and to keep Your Word truly and consistently in my life. I will never deny Your name, Lord. You are my Rock, my Sure Foundation, my Only Hope, and I will live like that is true in Your strength, not my own. Thank you Lord. Amen.”
Seventh, the Church in Laodicea (Re 3:14-22)
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 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.
To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.
The Lord is really clear here to the Church in Laodicea about His wish for them—that they were either on fire or ice. By this, He means that they have become complacent; they have become self-sufficient. “Jesus is not saying that He wishes they were either spiritually hot or spiritually cold rather than being spiritually lukewarm. Nowhere does God desire for His people to have cold hearts. Rather, Jesus explains what He means by being lukewarm in the next verse. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (v. 17). The lukewarm person is not one who is mildly passionate about God. Rather, the lukewarm person is one who has lost his dependence on God. In his arrogance, he believes he has no need of Christ’s righteousness because he has enough of his own” (Mark Bates).
Jesus is saying that He loves them; He is rebuking them because He loves them too much to leave them in their pitiful state of self-sufficiency. And there is no time to waste or be slothful; Jesus calls these people to be earnest, heed His call NOW, and repent NOW. He is standing right their door. He is standing at your door, too. Do you hear Him now? Will you open the door and invite Jesus in to do life with you as the KING of your life? Do we not know that we are useless and pitiful on our own?
And, oh, as we’re trying to sit on the thrones of our own lives, we are really losing our lives (see Luke 17:33). But, ironically, the one who lets JESUS be their sufficiency, God will give the right to sit with Him on His throne. WOAH…what an unfathomably high honour! To sit with King Jesus on his throne?! We couldn’t possibly…and yet He invites us there when we let Him be King of our lives, just as He was victorious in submitting everything, every decision, every step, every Word to His Father.
When you’re ready, pray this prayer with me: “Jesus, I am so sorry that I have tried to be sufficient all on my own. I have tried to be king of my own life and have only made a mess of things. Lord, I repent of that life, and I invite You now to be the King of my life, Lord. Rule over me; rule my decisions, my every step, my every thought, Lord. I take it all captive and give it to You. I know I am lost without You. Help me in my weakness, and help me to die daily as I pick up my cross and follow You. Amen.”