Tuesday

02 September 2014

“Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” (v. 7, 11)


Background

These are the first two individual mini-letters written to the churches named in Revelation 1:11. There are two more in chapter 2 and three in chapter 3. Comparing them all shows that they follow the same style, and convey a message from Jesus Christ. In each case the opening words highlight one aspect of the writer's vision of Christ in glory which is found in Revelation 1:12-20. Then Christ states his reasons for praising and/or rebuking that church. Finally there is a promise to those who remain faithful regarding their place in the life to come; in each case the form appears to be tailored to that specific church's situation.

The book of Revelation is written in a style referred to as 'apocalyptic' which, in common with much modern fantasy writing, uses symbolic characters and objects to tell its story. Some symbols require minimal interpretation, such as "the tree of life" (v. 7) because they are found elsewhere in the Bible (Genesis 2:9; 3:24) or the "seven golden lampstands" (v. 1) which are explained in the last verse of chapter 1 as being the seven churches. Other symbols invite an intelligent guess: the "second death" (v. 11) probably expresses the idea that we all suffer a first earthly death and those subsequently judged by God suffer final death afterwards.

Those who "claim to be apostles but are not" (v. 2) and who are subsequently called the Nicolaitans in verse 6 are probably Gnostics, people who denied that the human Jesus was truly divine. In contrast to these heretics at Ephesus, the church's opponents at Smyrna appear to be a Jewish synagogue; in opposing Christ the writer suggests they have so forsaken God as to become "a synagogue of Satan" (v. 9).


To Ponder

  • The text printed above these notes, which comes at the end of each of these mini-letters, calls to mind the way Jesus often ended his parables with, "Let anyone with ears listen!" (Matthew 13:9). Why do you think "You never listen" is often a valid complaint today? How might we listen better to the words of Scripture?
  • What usually works best for you: straight talking or using words to paint pictures? Think about this, both in terms of how you prefer to hear and how you prefer to share an idea with someone else.
  • Christ's criticism of the Ephesian Christians is that they have abandoned the love they had at first (verse 4). Why might this happen to a follower of Jesus?


Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

 

  • Sign up for e-newslettersKeep in touch with what interests you