Recently we’ve discussed here issues relating to worship, church, Kingdom and our relationships with God, and I thought it might be interesting for us to move into another completely different way of approaching these same concepts; the letters to the seven churches from Revelation 2 and 3.
As is the case with most of Revelation, there are plenty of views about how we should understand this section (Revelation 2-3 ). In order for us to figure this all out, we need to remind ourselves of the setting: Jesus in the midst of the His church; the scene has not changed from 1:20, thus the dictation of the seven letters is a continuation of this vision. Jesus, having assured John that he has nothing to fear, is still speaking from the vision. There He is in all of His glory, with the seven messengers (angels) and the seven golden lampstands that are the seven churches of Asia. Remember the importance of “seven”− these represent all of the messengers of God and all of the Body of Christ.
In dictating these letters, Jesus is addressing seven actual church congregations about their actual status at that time, thus we see “what is now.” By extension, because of the number 7, when we put them all together, we have the status of the whole Body of Christ, both then and now. For this reason, I am a little bit tempted to present this here as one combined document; I have resisted that temptation for sake of being faithful to John’s “now”.
These letters are quite fascinating in their structure, for they don’t exactly follow the typical letter structure of the time. Instead they follow a different structure which in my view has highly significant implications for the context of Revelation 4-22: The structure they follow is a covenant structure. In doing so, there is a direct and fascinating parallel between these letters and Joshua 24:1-27 in which the Mosaic covenant between God and Israel is restated along the lines of a suzerainty treaty between a superior and an inferior, or between a king and his subjects. In such a discussion there are five elements: a preamble, an historical prologue, stipulation, witnesses, and blessings/curses. As you will see, these elements are present in the seven letters. So that you can see the parallel from Joshua, I’ll give you some information on that passage next time.
The larger contextual significance of the letters is that they tend to set the stage for the rest of Revelation. For instance, if you want more information about “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life” (2:7) you can find it in 22:2,14. If you want to find out what is meant by “The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death” (2:11) then go to 20:14. The “new name” in 2:17 keeps popping up: 3:12; 14:1; 22:4 cf. 19:12-13, 16. Authority over the nations from 2:26 is discussed in 12:5; 20:4. The morning star of 2:28 is also found in 22:16… and we could go on, but as you can see, things come up in the promises of the letters, and are fulfilled later in the text.
Let’s take a step back for just a moment. The first five books of the Old Testament, the Torah, are the books of the Law. They tell the story of the covenant people of God from the beginning of creation right up to the point when God would shortly deliver the Promised Land to them. How does the Torah end? The easy answer is that it ends with Deuteronomy… but what is Deuteronomy? It is that great sermon of Moses, in which Moses re-states their Covenant with God. The story of Joshua is the story of Israel taking the Promised Land and becoming established there. How does it end? It ends in chapter 24 with Joshua re-stating their covenant with God. All of the Old Testament leads us to the New, which begins with the story of Jesus Christ and continues through the apostolic period of the first century. How does the New Testament end? Well, it ends with Revelation of course.
So here we are in our study with John, the last of the Apostles very near the end of his life, and Jesus in a vision, tells him, “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later” (1:19). Jesus covers the “now” in these letters which are all in the form of a re-statement of the New Covenant between God and His people at the end of the apostolic period. Then, it is followed by what we can all expect the future to bring… and that is how God ends His revelation of Himself to His people until He returns in the culmination of all the ages.
It’s really quite something when you think about it!
Next time we’ll take a look at the parallel from Joshua; see you then!