Written by Jeremiah Bolich – Evangelist, Church of the Nazarene, Lebanon, Tennessee, USA
Passage: Revelation 2 & 3
Of all the things I learned during my time in the United States Marine Corps, how to approach the enemy on a battlefield was among the most significant. During boot camp I learned, when approaching an enemy who is firing at me, to repeat the phrase, “I’m up, he sees me, I’m down – I’m up, he sees me, I’m down.” Saying this phrase, while jumping up, zigzagging across an open field, and then diving for cover, would most certainly save my life. The training I received grilled into my head that how one approaches something makes all the difference.
I found it intriguing, after studying Jesus’ addresses to the seven churches of Revelation chapters 2 and 3, how much emphasis he put in His approach. If you were to stand back and look at Jesus’ addresses as a whole, you would find some striking consistencies. Jesus approaches each church the exact same way. He uses the same format of address, calls for a response, and always promises an outcome. This is Jesus‘ approach to each church and He never deviates from it.
Some Particulars in the Text
The consistencies tucked away in Jesus’ approach are so exact that it demands our attention. Jesus uses reoccurring phrases, words, and promises, which reach beyond the individual circumstances of each church, to paint an overall perspective that every church should see. This perspective is crucial when trying to understand the message Jesus gives to each church. What is more, this perspective of Jesus’ approach lays out for the reader what the Gospel message looks like in the practical, everyday settings of life.
At a first reading, processing all that Jesus speaks to the churches, you will find that each church is very different from the others. Each church has a cultural setting, level of persecution, economic situation, and level of intimacy and devotion to God. Just like today’s churches, each of these are unique and have real people struggling to live in a real world with real problems.
At a second reading, other details of Jesus’ address might begin to appear. You might see there is a three part division to His approach. There is an opening introduction of Himself, a revelation of His knowledge to the specific church’s context, and a result that He wants to bring about for that church.
Jesus’ introduces Himself to each church in the exact same manner. In Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, and 14 this same expression appears when Jesus begins His introduction.
“To the angel of the church in _____________ write:”
Similarly, Jesus then enters into the body of His address to each church. Each elaborate description of the church’s context always contains the words “I know.” As the details of each church’s context is laid out, Jesus moves to a result that He desires for each church. This result always contains the phrases,
“To him who overcomes…” and “He who has an ear, let him her what the Spirit says to the churches.”
These consistencies are important in identifying the three part approach Jesus chooses when addressing these churches. Again, they are:
1.Jesus introduces Himself
2.Jesus speaks of the church’s context
3.Jesus calls for a result
In order to understand what Jesus desires for each church, and most importantly, what Jesus wants to speak to the seven churches, this approach needs to be looked at more closely. Let’s walk through it together.
(I) Jesus Introduces Himself as the Answer
The first thing Jesus does in His approach to the churches is present Himself as the Answer. This is important and very specific. Jesus does not present Himself as one who has the answer, but as the One who is the answer.
I would imagine that at some point every Christian has sought from Jesus an answer to a specific problem in their life. If you’re like me, you have probably sought godly counsel, read books, and prayed. Maybe you’ve even resorted to flipping through the Bible, suddenly jutting your finger into your Bible and randomly finding a passage with hopes that there you would find what you were looking for. This certainly is an option and one of many approaches Christians have used, and still use, in hopes to find direction in their life. Yet this method seems to contradict Jesus’ call in this first aspect of His approach. Jesus does not call the Church to seek an answer from Him, but to embrace Him as the Answer itself. Jesus tells His disciples in John 14:6,
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus has never been an avenue to something else. He is not a step on a staircase leading to some other place. He is not a ticket to heaven, nor the one who shows the way. Jesus is the Way! Knowing Him is Heaven!
“Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3
What Jesus desires for the churches in Revelation, and even for us today, is to embrace Him not only as the solution to every problem and issue in our life, but that He is the explanation of life itself. Christianity is not about solving problems and avoiding wrong actions, it is about allowing the Spirit to conform us into the image and likeness of Himself. Christianity is about living life as a Spirit-sourced human being.
(II) Jesus Speaks to the Church’s Context
After presenting Himself as the answer to the church, Jesus speaks of each church’s context. Everyone has a context of life and that context is marked by financial stability or instability, healthy or unhealthy lifestyles, cultural norms, persecution or comfort, temptation and addictions, relationships and everything else that contributes to life as a human being. Jesus calls boldly to each church that He is the Answer to that context of everyday life.
Now, you might be thinking something like, “How does it work that Jesus is the Answer to my situations of life? How does that play out?” It makes sense that Jesus is the example of who God desires me to be, but how does that change my marriage or the problems I’m having with my teenage daughter?”
To embrace Jesus as the Answer to our context of life is to see, in Jesus, what we are to look like in that context. Jesus gave countless parables to illustrate this one Truth. Take the parable of the Good Samaritan. I have read many well intending Christians who portray Jesus’ actions as the “right ones” when alleviating the sufferings of the hurting of this world. This is a misunderstanding of the parable. Jesus was not giving a “how to” on ministering to beaten foreigners found on the side of the road, He was presenting, through a Samaritan man, what God Himself would do in that situation. Jesus wanted us to see Spirit-lead motive and compassion. He wanted us to see what He looks like in that sort of scene.
Jesus speaks about this idea again in His parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. In this teaching, Jesus puts more emphasis on the identity of the person – than what the person did or did not do. After all, there wasn’t only one animal type gathered, but two different types. There were both sheep and goats present before the judgement. Sheep did sheep stuff ___ goats did goat stuff. Jesus was speaking of the kind of person each one was which determined what each one did. It was the type of person that produced the action, not the action that produced the person.
This is the Answer that Jesus is for the Christian. The Spirit-sourced believer does not need the right answer, they do not need the “fix” for whatever the problem presents. For the Spirit-sourced believer, it is enough that Jesus already knows about every aspect of our context of living. Nothing has escaped His sight. Jesus’ address is a reminder of His intimate involvement and knowledge of where we live, everyday. We are to, not only recognize that insight, but to trust in it.
(III) Jesus Calls for a Result
The most encouraging aspect of Jesus’ address to the churches in Revelation is the result He seeks to bring to pass.
After leaving the addresses to the churches in chapters 2 and 3, you enter chapter 4 where a great throne room scene unfolds. In this room, Jesus receives a scroll from the very hand of God the Father. As revealed in the following pages of the prophecy, this scroll represents the redemptive plan of God for all humanity. This scroll is placed in Jesus’s hands, which shows that He is the avenue by which God the Father will reconcile fallen humanity to Himself. The result that Jesus reveals to each church in chapters 2 and 3, which is the third aspect of His address, are ordained consequences of the Father’s will being exercised through Jesus.
This is a profound truth to ponder. What if what Jesus desires to produce in, and through your life, is nothing short than the dreams of God the Father Himself. Humanity was not created to be a tool or means to something greater. Adam was not an instrument, He lived in relationship with the Father as His son. Jesus reveals to us what that looks like, both while here on earth and in the future coming kingdom. The results God desires to produce in and through your life are not merely fixes or right outcomes, they are ordained consequences of God’s choice to spill through humanity, whom He created in His image and likeness.
At the close of each address, Jesus tells the churches that releasing Him into their context of life will enable Him to bring about the dreams God desires for their specific situations. Therefore Jesus is not just responsive to the churches, He is the initiator, proactive in His Father’s plan for each church.
The reality for the Christian, the one who lives a Spirit-sourced life, is their life does not flex and bend according to the pressures of this world. On the contrary, the Christian lives a life controlled, dictated, and produced by Jesus Himself. This is a familiar theme throughout the Bible. God spoke to Jeremiah the prophet affirming this truth saying,
“For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5
Passages like these do not reflect a removed and distant God who pops in and out of our context of living, but of One who has purpose and intent with His children.
Jesus is our banner and He is sourcing us as we live in our context of life. He is leading, guiding, protecting, and enabling us to be who God has called us to be in the moment when life seems impossible. This is the approach Jesus takes to communicate His message to the churches in Revelation.
First, Jesus is the Answer for anything and everything life throws at them – in Him they are to see what the Spirit wants to accomplish in them as they face their context of life. Second, He knows every detail of their context of life and longs to source every decision they make. Lastly, with this intimate involvement, Jesus is able to accomplish all that is needed to sustain them through God’s plan for their life.
What if we embraced the call that Jesus gave to these seven churches? What if we lived like Jesus was The Answer to our life and instead of demanding He change our circumstances, allowed Him to change us instead? What would change if we allowed Him to source our life?
It is my desire that you see Jesus as The Answer to your life and that you, in turn, release Him into your context of everyday living. The result of your trusting in Him will not only be that you will overcome and live victorious, but also that you might become the event where the Spirit of Jesus spills out into your world. Release Him to do what He wants to do in your life and then marvel at the result He brings about in your context of everyday living. Embrace Him today and allow Him to accomplish through you what only His Spirit can produce.