Would we pass Jesus' church MOT (part 1) - Revelation 2:1-29

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the Riverside Church service on 20th September 2015.

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Most of us don’t like being tested. That’s because the testing process and the testing results can make us feel very uncomfortable.


This is the case when a doctor carries out blood tests. This in case when children need to sit tests at school. Or when their teachers are inspected themselves. Or when someone checks over your work.


Most of us dont like being tested. And yet testing can be very good for us. It can reveal the truth and allow us to make changes in the future.


We discovered last week that the book of Revelation is one long letter addressed to seven real churches in the 1st century Roman province of Asia, what we would call modern day Turkey.


What we find in chapters 2 and 3 are seven mini letters to each of these seven churches, where Jesus gives each of them a spiritual MOT. Their current situation is scrutinised by the risen Jesus and he gives them feedback about what they should continue doing and what they should change.


We’re going to look at these two chapters over the next two weeks. Chapter 2 today and chapter 3 next week. However, before we look more closely at what is said in each letter let me say two things about these mini-letters in general.


First, they all have the same structure.


To the angel or messenger. The person who would receive the letter and read it out to the local congregation. Each member of the local church would not have their own scroll to follow along. We are very privileged indeed!


From Jesus. Part of the description from Revelation 1 is used in each mini-letter.


Then normally something that is commended; something that is rebuked’ something that is commanded; and something that is promised.


Second, they all include the same significant sentence near the end.


He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.


Although each mini-letter addressed a real life situation in one of these ancient places, each church also had to read and take to heart what the Spirit was saying in the other 6 mini letters.


Why? First, they are to be encouraged by what the Christians are doing. Second, they as a church may face these other issues themselves at some point in the future. They must be ready for them. Third, it may be that individual believers are already facing other issues already.


The same is true for us. Our desire should not to try and pick which of the 7 churches is most like ours today but instead to read all seven and take to heart what is said in them all. We should be encouraged by what Christians have done in the past and challenged in the different areas of our contemporary witness for the Lord Jesus. We may find some things particularly pertinent for our church or for ourselves but even if we don’t at the moment we are to prepare ourselves for any future fight by hearing these truths now.


For each mini-letter we’ll answer four questions.


  • What does Jesus commend?
  • What does Jesus rebuke?
  • What does Jesus command?
  • What does Jesus promise?


Ephesus (Vs 1-7)


What does Jesus commend?


Look at verses 2 and 3. Read verses 2 and 3.


This church is doing three great things.


First, they are working hard. And they are keeping on doing them over the long term.


Second, they didn’t tolerate false teaching.


Third, they have kept going through tough times. They have endured hardships for my name. These are the trials that come because of our witness for Jesus.


Jesus commends them for all of this. We should copy their example.


What does Jesus rebuke?


Look at verse 4. Read verse 4.


They have lost their first love - for the Lord Jesus Christ.


Ephesians 6:24, “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”


But now their love for Christ had diminished - the intensity of their passion was much less.


This matters for two big reasons.


First, our big priority in life is to love God. Everything else flows out of that. We must be careful that we don’t replace love with Christian deeds. Our actions are to flow from a healthy relationship of love that we enjoy with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


Second, only love for Christ enables us to do Christian deeds with the right spirit. It is possible to keep on going in the Christian life without the joy in the heart. This is not an inevitable result of growing old. It is one of the sins of growing old.


If this is something you are feeling right now, what can you do about it?


What does Jesus command?


Look at what Jesus commands in verse 5. Read verse 5.


  • Remember.
  • Repent
  • Do the things you did at first. There are certain practices that will restore your heart love for Jesus. This is the case in any relationship. For example, date night. The same with Jesus. Hearing the word, singing the word, speaking words.


What does Jesus promise?


Look at the end of verse 7. Read verse 7.


The promise of being in the future paradise of God if you keep the faith. Overcoming means keeping on trusting all the way through.


Smyrna (Vs 8-11)


This was further north than Ephesus.


What does Jesus commend?


Look at verse 9.


It was painful for them and they were penniless.


Both were caused by their witness for Jesus.


There was an economic cost of following Jesus for the Christians in Smyrna. This may be related to local trade unions, who the Christians would not join in good conscious and so they lost out financially.


Jesus reassured them that they were spiritually rich!


The issues will not be exactly the same in our day and age but we know some Christian businesses are already suffering financially because of their Christian commitments.


For example, the Ashers Bakery in Northern Ireland.


What about you? Are you prepared to take an economic hit for your Christian ethics? Providing a service? Telling the truth?


What does Jesus rebuke?


Nothing! They were not perfect but Jesus didn’t feel it necessary to rebuke them for anything specific.


What does Jesus command?


Look at verse 10. Read verse 10.


More violent persecution is coming. He wants them to be faithful witnesses even under death.


What does he promise?


Look at the end of verse 11. Read verse 11b.


He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death - this is a reference to the punishment of hell (See Revelation 20:14). They may have to die in this life for their faith in Christ but they won’t die eternally. Christ has freed them by his blood. 


Pergamum (Vs 12-17)


What does Jesus commend?


We’re told in verse 13. Read verse 13.


No one is exactly sure what this reference to the throne of Satan is. One possibility is that it refers to the local temple devoted to the worship of the Roman Emperor. Pergamum was the provincial capital and so a major centre for Emperor Worship.


Rome tolerated pretty much any belief as long as its subjects swore loyalty to Caesar. People would have to appear in the temple, burn some incense before a statue and say that Caesar was Lord. If they didnt there was a cost.


This was a wicked practice that Christians couldn’t take part in and Revelation is telling us that behind this wicked practice was Satan himself.


At the moment we dont need to burn incense to a statue of David Cameron but we lets not be naive, increasingly we will find ourselves in a Pergamum situation in this country.


People will expected to subscribe to Government defined values if they are to be considered loyal citizens and if they are to be allowed to have certain jobs and certain roles. If we don’t subscribe then there will be a cost.


Could you stand as a School Governor if you were asked not simply to agree that homophobia is wrong but agree to celebrate homosexuality as a lifestyle choice for some? Could you sign up to lead a Scout group or Guide group if the same condition applied?


The Christians at Pergamum were faithful - even to the point of death.


What does Jesus rebuke?


You can read about it in verses 14 and 15 but in essence they had some in the local church who were prepared to compromise their faith for financial gain.


This reference to food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality is probably a reference to the trade guilds in the city. They would often have events that involved idol worship followed by sex with prostitutes. Both these practices were wrong for Christians but some felt the pressure to join in otherwise they would suffer financially.


Jesus said this was wrong.


What does Jesus command?


Something very simple - look at verse 16. Repent!



What does Jesus promise?


We’re told at the end of verse 17. Hidden manna. A white stone with a new name written on it. There is much speculation about what the stone and new name means but one possibility is that it was like the white stone that was used as a entry ticket into ancient Greek stadiums. The one who overcomes will be guaranteed a place in the New Creation. The new name may refer to the new transformed character that will be given to us in that new place.


Thyatira (Vs 18-29)


Much more briefly.


What does Jesus commend?


Read verse 19. They are doing more than they did at first. This is superb! And should be copied.


What does Jesus rebuke?


Read verse 20. They tolerated the false teaching - similar to that being taught in Pergamum. They don’t all do it but there is much conflict avoidance.


What does Jesus command?


Read verse 25. Hold on to what you have until I come.



What does Jesus promise?


Two things


A great responsibility in the New Creation. You may miss on things now because of your Christian convictions but don’t forget what the future has in store.


A great relationship in the New Creation. What is the morning star? Jesus tells us in Revelation 22:16 - he is the morning star. We get Jesus himself!


In summary


Lots of take on board.


How should we respond to what Jesus is saying to us church today?


Let’s hear the commendations, the rebukes, the commands and the promises. In response, let’s be encouraged, challenged, obedient and motivated.


Let’s pray.


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