The Seven Churches of Revelation and Me

Revelation is a book of the Bible that I have found confusing and difficult to understand. Throughout my life I have attended Bible studies, read books and listened to a host of people give their viewpoint on the meaning of the book.

Several years ago, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B Jenkins wrote a series of novels called “Left Behind.” The books are the authors’ interpretation of Revelation. They write of a seven-year conflict between the Tribulation Force (people who have converted to Christianity after what they call the “rapture”) and the New World Order led by the Antichrist. The series was adapted into four movies. I never read the books, but I did see a couple of the movies.

There are as many different interpretations of what the book of Revelation means as there are different church backgrounds. Some of the different ways of looking at the book are:

Preterist

This line of reasoning says we should view the book from a historical context and try to understand it as being written to the people of John’s day. We try to understand the political and religious times and how the readers then would understand John’s words.

Historicist

This approach says many of the events of the book seem to have taken place in the first century. This gives us an outline of history of the church in the past and a glimpse of what may yet happen in the church until Christ returns.

Futurist

Believers in this group (which is where LaHaye and Jenkins fall) believe the books tells us of future events which will take place at the “end of time.”

Idealist

This group teaches that Revelation does not pertain to any particular time (past, present or future) but is simply a story of the constant struggle between good and evil.

My church background was of the “futurist” viewpoint. I must confess, however, that listening to all the teachers who seemed so sure of what they believed only added to my confusion. I had to ask “how could they be so sure what all the images in the book really stood for?” Most of what they said seemed to me to be simply their opinion without any definite proof of their “theories.”

Yet it was almost considered heresy to suggest that these teachers who claimed to have perfect knowledge of the meaning of Revelation should be questioned. My solution was to just avoid any Bible study on the book of Revelation.

Years have passed and our local church offered a study on Revelation. I decided to give Revelation another chance.

The lesson was on chapters 2 and 3 which tell of John recording a message from Jesus Christ to the seven churches.

I was prepared for the usual explanation. 1) these churches represent different stages of church history. Each of these stages can be traced to specific times in the history of the church. This point of view says we are in the stage of the last church, Laodicea. 2) these churches represent different types of churches that would be throughout time. Of course, those who take this point of view always see their own church as one of the two churches that had no criticism from Jesus and other churches as one of those that received strong criticism.

What a surprise as I found a new take on these chapters.

Church is not a building, not an organization, not a denomination. The church is made up of those who believe in Jesus Christ. I am the church.

What I need to take from these two chapters is not some eschatological, deep mystery meaning. I need to look at the praise and the criticism each church received and ask myself how I stand up to that.

  • Have I lost my first love? Am I as excited about God’s Word and His church as I once was?
  • Have I remained true to God’s Word? Am I compromising my beliefs to fit with my culture?
  • Have I become lukewarm to the things of God? Have I lost my sense of what is valuable and pleasing to God?
  • Do I need to strengthen my faith?

I am not sure where this study will lead but I am approaching it to learn any lessons that will help me be the “church” I need to be and not worry about the “mysteries” found here.

Taking a Close Look at My Prayer Time

There is only one miracle of Jesus that all four gospel writers record: the feeding of the 5,000. Actually there were probably more than 5,000 fed that day because the writers say 5,000 men. Since we know that women and children also came to hear Jesus we can assume there were women and children present which would increase that number significantly.

Growing up in church I have heard that story told many times. The emphasis has always been on the miracle of feeding all those people with just two loaves and a few fish and the compassion of Jesus for those who were hungry and possibly weak from the hunger. Certainly that is a story!!! Certainly we can gain comfort from the fact that the compassion of Jesus led to meeting a real physical need.

However, I recently heard a sermon where the emphasis was not on the feeding of the 5,000 but rather on what the first thing the compassion of Jesus led him to do.

Mark’s gospel tells us:

But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him.  And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things.  When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late.  Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.” But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.”

According to Mark the first thing the compassion of Jesus led him to do was to teach them. Clearly their physical need of food was important – how could anyone really listen and understand when their stomach is growling? Over and over we see through the miracles and actions of Jesus that He cared about the people’s physical need.

Yet His main purpose was to teach us. In Luke after ministering to many in a town, He went out to pray. When the crowd came searching for Him, He told them:

“But Jesus told them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well, because that is why I was sent.”

Thinking about this I have to wonder: where is our emphasis in our walk with God? Are we more interested in having Him meet our physical needs rather than having a deep interest in learning more about Him?

Again, our physical needs are important. Believe me, when I had cancer and when my husband had surgery for a brain bleed, I was asking everyone I could think of to pray. I spent a lot of time crying out to God for healing.

But looking at my prayers I have to ask myself, how many are just:

  • Heal Aunt Susie
  • Give cousin Billy a job
  • Help my friend, Ann, get that promotion
  • Don’t let it rain today on our picnic

Looking at the prayers of Jesus, the early church and the Apostle Paul – what a difference.

The prayer of Jesus for us just before He went to the cross:

Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.  Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.  And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.  I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

When the Early Church was facing persecution and the disciples were threatened if they continued to share about Jesus, the church gathered and prayed not for safety, as I would probably do but rather they prayed:

And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.

The Apostle Paul prayed often for the church. His prayers were:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him–since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened–so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe

I pray that according to the wealth of his glory [the Father] may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

[I ask] God to fill you with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects–bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for the display of all patience and steadfastness, joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.

As I think about this, I have to add another prayer:

Lord, help me to ask for my physical needs because I know you care about them, but help me to go deeper and seek a closer walk for me and my family and friends. Help me to care as much about our spiritual health as I do our physical health. Help me to seek You not just to meet my needs, but so I can draw closer to You and be more capable of sharing Your love with my community.