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Lesson 3: Jesus' Messages to the Seven Churches *

Introduction: We have a lot to cover this week! Scholars believe that John's message to each of the local churches is also a prophetic message to the Christian church at various times in its history. Each local church has certain characteristics and problems that reflect the overall church during certain historical periods. Of course, these statements are general descriptions, and I suspect that each of us will identify with some of the problems outside our "time." The last church is Laodicea, and it represents the church before Jesus' Second Coming. I trust you agree with me that is our time in history. Let's dive into our study and learn what God has for us in these descriptions of His church!

  1. Smyrna

    1. Read Revelation 2:8 and Revelation 1:17-18. Who is the source of this revelation to John? (We decided last week that it was Jesus.)

      1. Notice how the message for the church in Smyrna restates one of the characteristics of Jesus given in the first chapter of Revelation. Why this repetition? (We will see this for each of the churches. Jesus cites that part of His experience or character that is most appropriate for the situation faced by that specific church.)

    2. Read Revelation 2:9-11. What faces the church in Smyrna? (Persecution and suffering.)

      1. How does Jesus' introduction of Himself benefit the members of the Smyrna church? (Jesus reminds them that He suffered and died, but was resurrected for them. That is how Jesus is able to promise them "I will give you the crown of life.")

  2. Pergamum

    1. Read Revelation 2:12-13. Today, the phrase "I know where you live" is considered a threat. What does Jesus mean here? (Jesus understands the circumstances of our life. Here, the church is located in a city which was the first in Asia to set up a temple to the worship of Octavius Caesar, the Roman Emperor. This may be the reason it is called "where Satan lives." A prominent Christian leader was martyred in that city, which leads us to believe that the Christians there felt surrounded by danger.)

    2. Read Revelation 2:14-15. What is the "teaching of Balaam?" (If you want to read the back story, read Numbers 22-24 and Numbers 31:16. Essentially, King Balak wanted Balaam the prophet to curse God's people. Although Balaam wanted the money he would get from the King, God would not allow him to curse His people. Instead, Balaam suggested a way that Balak could get God's people to sin, and thus attempt to separate them from the true God.)

      1. Read Numbers 25:1-3. What is the sin that Balaam suggested? (Moabite women would entice God's people into idol worship.)

    3. Look at Revelation 2:14 again. With this background, how do you think some members of Pergamum held "to the teaching of Balaam?" (I don't think the issue is food sacrificed to idols or sexual immorality. Balaam taught a way around the express desire of God - that His people remain faithful and not be cursed. Balaam taught a way in which God's people could bring a curse upon themselves.)

      1. How would you apply this lesson today? Who are the "Balaam prophets" that we should avoid? (Balaam wanted to enrich himself, and he was willing to try to harm God's people to do it. Thus, I think any scheme for personal enrichment of a church leader which harms God's people presents this kind of problem.)

      2. Read 1 Corinthians 8:4-9. What does this say about eating food offered to idols? (It says it is fine if you realize that an idol is nothing (and you do not harm the "weak" conscience person who has not figured this out yet). This is why I'm doubtful that Balaam's sin was inducing people to eat food offered to idols.)

    4. Read Revelation 2:16-17. How does this fit the introduction of the message to Pergamum about Jesus having a sword? (It reminds us that Jesus also has a judgment side to His character.)

      1. What do you think is meant by the "hidden manna" and the "white stone?" (Exodus 16 talks about manna. It is God's way to meet the physical needs of His people. Robertson's New Testament Word Studies tells us that a "white stone" was used in courts of justice and it symbolized being acquitted of the charges against you. Thus, God will meet your physical needs and His grace will rescue you personally from your sins.)

  3. Thyatira

    1. Read Revelation 2:18-19. What kind of deeds does this church have? (More than in the past. The assumption is that these are good deeds.)

      1. Is this a strong endorsement?

    2. Read Revelation 2:20. In light of what we just discussed about Balaam and food offered to idols, what do you think is the problem with Jezebel? (This is another person who claims to be a prophet. It must be that she promotes the entire idol worship system involving sexual immorality and food blessed by idols. If she taught that idols were nothing, then this would not be a problem. Thus, she is promoting values at odds with the gospel.)

      1. Why do you think she is called "Jezebel?" Is that her name? (Read 1 Kings 16:30-32 and 1 Kings 21:25-26. I believe calling this so-called prophet "Jezebel" is symbolic. Her situation is far different than that of Balaam. Balaam was a prophet of God who struggled with greed. Jezebel was an enemy of God. Thus, when the text refers to her urging God's people to eat food sacrificed to idols, she wants them to believe that the idols have real power.)

      2. What do you think is the modern equivalent of a Jezebel?

    3. Read Revelation 2:21-23. Would a loving God cause intense suffering? (These seem to be enemies of God. They are not struggling Christians. If we are not saved by grace (meaning our names written in the Book of Life), we will be punished and suffer for our bad deeds in the final judgment. See Revelation 20:11-15.)

      1. Is punishment only about the final judgment? (I contend that the Ten Commandments were given to us in large part to make our lives better. We often suffer in this life for our wrong choices.)

    4. Read Revelation 2:24-25. How does this characterize the teachings of Jezebel? (She is teaching Satan's secrets. This sounds very dark. This is further proof of the nature of Jezebel.)

      1. What does God expect of those who have resisted the temptation of Jezebel? (To just hold on.)

  4. Sardis

    1. Read Revelation 3:1-3. Remember that the description of Jesus has something to do with the nature of the church being addressed. How is Sardis dead? (When we discussed the "seven spirits" or seven messengers of Revelation 1:4, I suggested that this is a reference to the Holy Spirit. His role in the Trinity had not been mentioned before. Thus, this church is "dead" because it lacks the power of the Holy Spirit.)

    2. Read Revelation 3:4-6. When these verses refer to not soiling clothes, being worthy and overcoming, is this talking about the good works of the righteous? (Read Revelation 7:13-14. John understands that keeping our robes "white" refers not to good deeds, but rather relying on the blood of Jesus to cover our sins.)

      1. Why does Revelation 3:4 refer to the "walk" of the righteous? (This is the pattern of having a relationship with Jesus. These are people who desire to do God's will while realizing that their good deeds will never save them.)

  5. Philadelphia

    1. Read Revelation 3:7-10. What is the connection between Jesus' "open door" authority and the saints in Philadelphia? (These are challenged Christians. They are accused of not being loved by Jesus, their strength is fading away, but they are holding on. Jesus essentially tells them "keep coming, I'm holding the door open for you!")

      1. Look again at verse 10. Does this suggest that Jesus delayed His Second Coming for their benefit - so that they would miss the final tribulation?

    2. Read Revelation 3:11-13. What does Jesus promise them if they keep on towards the open door?

  6. Laodicea

    1. Read Revelation 3:14-16. What does Jesus' description of Himself have to do with the members of this church? (He is true and faithful, and they are compromisers: not hot and not cold.)

    2. Read Revelation 3:17-19. What is the primary problem of these Christians? (They do not realize their true state of sinfulness. They rely on their success, they are self-sufficient.)

      1. What will happen to them? (Because Jesus loves them, He will rebuke and discipline them.)

    3. Read Revelation 3:20-22. What does Jesus want us to do? (Be serious about being a Christian. Repent of our sins. Let Jesus into our life because He wants to come in.)

    4. Friend, do you see your life in the description of any of the churches? If this has shown some action that you need to take, why not, by the power of the Holy Spirit, do that right now?

  7. Next week: Worthy is the Lamb!
* Copr. 2019, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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