When Christ says, "He who has an ear to hear let him hear what the spirit says to the churches," that is what the Greek literally says. But what it most closely approximates in the English is, "Now, think through what I have said."
This phrase only appears a couple of other times in the Bible—three times in Mark and once in Luke. But it appears almost twice that many times in just two chapters of the book of Revelation. If God says something once, we need to pay attention to it. If He repeats it even one or two times more, then what He has to say, He is drawing attention to, and it is very important! But, if He says it seven times in the course of two chapters, then He is intensifying what He says considerably.
Revelation 2 and 3, when combined with Christ's discourses in the Olivet Prophecy (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21) shows Christ's concern regarding what His people should be focusing on just prior to the end. His vision of the times we live in was clear enough to foresee that we would have more distractions to grab our attention than at any other time in the history of man. He could see that the ease and rapidity of communication would attract our senses, and it would be difficult for us to keep ourselves focused on our prime concern.
Not that it would be difficult for us to keep focused on the outworking of prophecy. The book of Revelation is devoted to prophecy, and just about every Christian seems to be concerned with it, as everybody wants to have insight into what is going to happen. We want to have advanced news because it piques our interest. Perhaps some vanity is involved because we want to know before somebody else does so that we might have the privilege of telling them what we understand about prophecy.
But this, giving us insight into the future, was probably not Christ's primary reason for inspiring the book of Revelation. Something else is exceedingly more important, and most of it is contained in chapters 2 and 3, right at the beginning of the book. The most important part of Christ's revelation is contained in the letters to the seven churches.
In this confusing world, what is difficult is keeping our personal life focused, yet it is a responsibility each one of us has before God. No one else can do it for us. Individually, we must make the choices about what we will do with our time and energies. This is what Revelation 2 and 3 is concerned with.
This phrase is a solemn warning that what is addressed in one letter may also apply to the others in other congregations not affected by the attitude dominating their congregation. In other words, a person might have an Ephesian problem while attending a Sardis congregation.
In this way, each letter is written to each member of the body of Christ. And if the description fits, then we are to make the changes Christ commands.
What does Christ say in the letters? We also need to consider what He does not say because it is relevant to this period of time we live in. For instance, there is no mention, either positive or negative, of preaching the gospel. This omission can help us see its relevant importance compared to what Christ did say. Remember, these scriptures do not stand alone. Preaching the gospel is part of the church's responsibility, and it should not be minimized. However, it is not even directly implied in these two chapters.
Instead, Revelation 2 and 3 is a ringing call for things far more important to salvation, reward, witnessing effectively for Him, and making disciples.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 2-3 and Works
The sense is that these messages for each church—for all Christians. This means that the attitudes and conduct described dominate the group accused or complimented by Christ, but they also exist in the other groups as well. Otherwise, the advice to whoever hears would not apply.
In other words, the Ephesian attitude might also be in Smyrna, Pergamos, Laodicea, Philadelphia, etc., but it dominated the church in Ephesus. The attitude that dominated in Smyrna would also describe, though with less accuracy, one or more of the other groups. The same would be true of Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
All the messages apply to all of the churches. All the messages apply to each of us as individuals, and it is a matter of "if the shoes fits, wear it." That is God's approach here. We are to live by every word of God. It is only under this principle that we can apply these messages.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part Four)
Consider that this is Christ's message to His church just before the end, and this is what is most important for His people as we approach the end. Doctrine is mentioned seven times. Is that interesting in light of the times in which we live? We are seeing a major part of the church going haywire on doctrine! Is there something in the letter to Thyatira that mentions things that are happening in that group?
The letters contain at least eleven warnings to these seven churches but also at least twelve promises. Christ mentions faith, patience, conduct, and doctrine. But the two greatest, related concerns for His church at the end are works (Revelation 2:2,9,13,19; 3:1,8, 15) and overcoming (Revelation 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21).
Today, an awful lot of people are interested in church government at this time. It is not even mentioned by Christ! There are people who are interested in rituals, sacraments, and ceremonies, of which would be things like baptism or the Passover. But nothing in the seven letters alludes to these things. Nor is there anything in them about preaching the gospel around the world. These things have their place, but what we see is Christ's concern with doctrine, conduct, warnings to repent, and promises of reward.
Now these things that are not mentioned are less important than faith, repentance, and holiness, all of which directly impact on doctrine, conduct, and receiving the promises. All of these are bracketed between His statements about works and overcoming.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 2-3 and Works