Reading through the Bible together
Just as John’s vision of Christ in Revelation 1 describes Jesus with highly symbolic, apocalyptic imagery, each letter in Revelation 2–3 begins with some of these symbols and then proceeds to also describe Christ’s Church in symbolic terms. This is one of many clues that the seven churches of Asia are symbolic of the church down through history. Another clue is that these are no ordinary letters. So important are they that they come from Jesus Himself!
In most of them (though not all) Jesus finds something about His Church to commend and He begins with that. But, as the faithful Physician, He also diagnoses the maladies of the Church in each era and gives them a prescription that, if accepted, will enable each church member not only to get well but to conquer sin and death.
The overall picture of the church in Revelation 2 is of a church under attack, from within and without. And the picture gets worse before it gets better. The church of Ephesus, representing the apostolic age, is a faithful and active church. They root out apostasy and do not grow weary in well-doing. So evangelistically successful was the early church that Paul could say the gospel had been “preached to every creature under heaven” (Col. 1:23). But eventually they lost their first love (Rev. 2:4). “After a time the zeal of the believers began to wane, and their love for God and one another grew less” (AA 580).
Even in the best of times, we can be so concerned with the work of the Lord, that we lose sight of the Lord of the work. We forget that success as God measures it is only possible as we look to Jesus. Every day we need a fresh vision of Him; we need our love for Him refreshed and renewed; we need the assurance that we enter the day in His strength and with a sense of His presence. Then we will remember that our work is really His work and our lives will touch those around us with the fragrance of His love and grace.
Clinton Wahlen, PhD
Associate Director, Biblical Research Institute