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)
If we overcome by the strength of the spiritual manna, we will someday eat of the "hidden manna." As a perpetual reminder of how He took care of them in the wilderness for 40 years, God commanded Moses and Aaron to save some manna in a golden pot placed inside the Ark of the Covenant. The lid of the Ark represents the mercy seat of God's throne. Since Jesus Christ fulfills the type of the manna, this pictures the reward of those who eat and use God's bread every day. A time is coming when they will be one with Christ on His throne, working intimately with Him in the innermost part of His Temple. It pictures us receiving Christ in a very close and rewarding relationship for all eternity, as we feed forever on the empowering and encouraging words of our soon-coming King.
Have You Had Your Manna Today?
We can see what most concerns Christ—what is most important to Him—at the end, when the pressures will be more intense than they have ever been in the history of man, when Satan is lining up all of his forces, all of his armies, all of his weaponry. The Devil will mount a persecution against God's people to such an extent that the whole earth will be thrown into convulsions, the likes of which this world has never seen!
Christ, like any good leader who sees what is coming, will take steps to prepare His people. He will focus their attention on what is most important to survive and grow during that period. This is why He talks about what He does to the churches in the messages in Revelation 2 and 3.
The word translated as "overcomes" can just as easily and correctly be—and is perhaps better—translated "conquers." We are involved in a war against Satan and his demons, against a world he designed and built through men, and against ourselves, who carry with us the self-centered nature, habits, and attitudes of Satan and his system. Thus, Christ's concern for us as we approach the end is whether we are carrying through in the warfare, continuing in well doing, and enduring to the end, because Satan is bringing about every pressure to make us surrender.
Loyalty is not a quality that we Americans and Canadians are endowed with to any great degree. Our cultures tend to stress individuality—doing our own thing. This lack of loyalty in America and Canada perhaps shows more clearly in divorce and infidelity than anywhere else. Loyalty's synonym is "faithful." It means "faithful in allegiance to one's lawful sovereign; to be faithful to a private person to whom fidelity is due; or faithful to a cause." It means to be steadfast in affection, to adhere to the performance of duty, to be conscientious, to give firm resistance to any temptation to desert or betray. Can we see what the works are Christ is so concerned about?
This is why every message says, "I know your works!" (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). He does not say, "I know your profession" or "I know your desires." Neither does He say, "I know your sincerity" or "I know your wishes." He says, "I know your works"! Why? Because works prove what a person is doing with his knowledge, time, and energies.
Titus 1:16 says, "They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified." Notice that they "profess" to know God. Christ says, "I see what you are doing. I know your works." Why are works so important? They prove where our heart is! They prove our loyalty! They prove whether we are conscientious and faithful. They prove whether there is fidelity to Jesus Christ—whether we are steadfast in our affection for the One we are going to marry.
Many believe that we do not have to qualify for the Kingdom of God. It is true that works cannot justify us; they cannot wipe out our sins. However, it does not follow that, because they cannot save us, they are of no importance. Recall that James uses Abraham, the father of the faithful—the father of the loyal, the conscientious—as the illustration that faith without works is dead! Living faith works! Jesus says, "I know your works"!
Revelation 2 and 3 are an examination of our works because Christ wants to see whether we believe Him! Living faith exhibits itself in works! It is a test of our faith. If we are faithful, we will be working: overcoming Satan, the world, and our self-centeredness. That is what works accomplish.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 2-3 and Works
The manna that fed Israel was spread on the ground for all to see and gather (Exodus 16:4, 35). Hidden manna, symbolizing God's Word, is concealed from the rest of the world; it is special insight from God that feeds the soul and sustains spiritual life. In the ancient world, a white stone was given to one under judgment as an absolution from guilt, a black stone to the condemned. A white stone signifies innocence through forgiveness and grace to enter the Kingdom of God. The new name reflects the holy character built by the repentant overcomer. These gifts, though certainly special and wonderful, are available to every true child of God.
The Seven Churches: Pergamos
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
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