The Seven Churches
Open Your Bible
Revelation 2:1-29, Revelation 3:1-22, Matthew 22:34-39
“Things are getting worse and worse.”
When we look at the news, the culture, the entertainment, and even the Church today, it’s easy to feel as if everything is slowly getting worse. It’s tempting to believe that the world is gradually unraveling, and that we are moving further away from truth, instead of toward it.
Whenever we feel this cynicism begin to creep in, the temptation is to idealize the generations that have gone before us. We think, Our parents’ generation, our grandparents’ generation, the earliest Christians—they had it all together. Things weren’t as bad back then!
I struggle with this mentality often. There are days when I feel jaded about Christians and about the Church. I log onto social media and see division and in-fighting, or I read about a pastor failing his congregation and his family. I see name-calling and judgment and the drawing of big, deep lines, and my heart wants to harden toward it all.
On those days when we are tempted to dismiss the world with a flick of the wrist, when we find ourselves looking down on other Christians who “aren’t doing it right,” and when we despair that the Church’s reputation is hopelessly smeared, Revelation 2–3 has a word for us.
In these chapters, written just a generation after Jesus’s resurrection, many churches are distracted and lost. Although they are working hard and striving to be faithful, God also levels the following charges against them:
They had forsaken their first love (2:4).
They participated in pagan rituals (2:14).
They were sexually immoral (2:14).
They embraced false teaching (2:15, 20).
They had a reputation of being alive, but they were dead (3:1).
They were lukewarm, neither hot nor cold (3:16).
All this, only sixty years after Jesus walked the earth.
What this tells us is that the world is not simply getting worse, and neither is the Church. Following Jesus has always been hard. Faithfulness to God has always come unnaturally. Ever since sin entered the world, human nature has found it difficult to obey.
And that is exactly why we need a Savior.
The good news of Jesus Christ begins with the bad news that we are broken. We have always been distracted. We have always resisted the truth. It was true two thousand years ago, and it is just as true today. Therefore, these letters to the seven churches in Asia minor are important for us as well. “Let anyone who has ears to hear listen to what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:29).
But our brokenness has never stopped God. Our division, our fighting, our apathy, our immorality, even our bad theology—none of it has ever stopped God. So when we read Revelation 2–3, we can do three things. First, we can remember that humanity is not getting worse, and neither is the Church—the temptation to turn away from God and His ways has always been there. Second, we can welcome this list of rebukes as an opportunity to identify our own areas of need.
And finally, we can hope. In Revelation 3:19, God says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline” (NIV). When we see darkness in the world—no matter how great—we don’t have to despair, and our hearts don’t have to grow hard. Instead, we can consider the possibility that God is allowing us to see these things, so that He can redeem them.