Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 2 and 3
Timothy J. Westendorf
Revelation is symbolic. That’s important to remember, and symbolic numbers play a big role.
The number seven (7) is the most common. It is used multiple times in the first chapter. The entire revelation can be conveniently divided into seven parts or visions, with the number seven appearing throughout.
But Revelation isn’t the first time God uses that number. In the Old Testament the number is also used. While God doesn’t reveal why he chose seven, its association with his covenant seems rather clear. A comforting suggestion could be this: Three is the number for God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit); four is the number of the world (four directions); and the sum of these numbers (3+4=7) represents the reconciliation of God and humankind through Christ Jesus.
Keep that thought in mind as we move forward. The first vision contains a command from Jesus for John to write letters to seven churches.
What are we to learn from these letters? Some see only prophecy of future events, even seven different and distinct eras of the church’s history. Context, however, leads us more naturally to conclude that Jesus is speaking about “what is now” (1:19) in these letters.
These were real, ancient, historic cities in Asia Minor where there were real, historic Christian congregations. Real, historic people were the members of those churches. God’s redeemed children, living with their own weaknesses and in enemy territory, were dealing with conflicts from within and without. It was messy. It was tough. False teaching. Flagging love. Ungodly living. Persecution. Poverty. Indifference. Weariness.
Sound familiar? It was no different for those churches than it is for ours today. And so, we hear Jesus’ words to ancient congregations as his words to Christian congregations in every age and place. Some might hit home more in your place and time than mine. They might apply differently at different stages in the history of individuals, congregations, and church bodies. But they are meant for us, the church militant, struggling in this world. “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (written multiple times in Revelation chapters 2 and 3).
Go ahead and read the letters. Do you feel comforted? Maybe not. Perhaps you feel convicted. Is your own natural heart exposed by Jesus’ words? Do these letters paint an uncomfortably accurate picture of your congregation or synod?
Jesus isn’t bashful about pointing out our shortcomings. But he does so in love. He knows the danger posed by unrepentant sin. He knows the damage caused by false teaching and ungodly living. And so he lovingly calls on his people to repent of sin that so easily traps them. He always does this so he can comfort us with his word of redemption and restoration. So be convicted, but also be comforted by his forgiving grace.
What about when you are persecuted and feeling weak? Hear the voice of Jesus tell you that he knows you and what you are experiencing, just as he knew these ancient believers. Hear him invite you to find comfort in his promises. Victory over every enemy is yours alone in him. The gracious prize of heaven itself awaits those who faithfully cling by faith alone to him. Hide yourself in him, and find your peace and strength and hope in him.
Reflect on the Revelation chapters 2 and 3
1. With which of the seven churches do you most relate?
- What prayers (for yourself, your congregation, your synod) do these letters prompt?
- Which description and/or promise of the Savior do you find most comforting? How will you remind yourself of that comforting truth this week?
Contributing editor Timothy Westendorf is pastor at Abiding Word, Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019
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