Ephesus · Smyrna · Pergamum · Thyatira · Sardis · Philadelphia · Laodicea
1. The senior pastor (or shepherd) –and therefore his helpers/under-shepherds (i.e., deacons/officers – Luk 12:58), are the one(s) responsible for the spiritual health of their churches (Rev 1:20 “stars are the angels of the seven churches” or “messengers sent by God to those particular churches)”(2:1, 8, 12, 18, 3:1, 7, 14) = Senior pastor/shepherd.
Additional support: 1) stars are a metaphor for pastors who lead people to righteousness (Dan 12:3), 2) the seven stars exist among the “seven golden lampstands.” Not only is this a metaphor for the church, but a reference to the lampstands tended to by the OC priests and Levites in the Temple. In the same way, the NC priests and Levites will tend to (or be responsible for) the lampstand that is now the church.
2. A church that is spiritually healthy is a church characterized by people overcoming their sin (i.e., their lives are no longer characterized by sin – 1Jo 5:3-5 = Christians [those who believe in Jesus/God’s Son and are born again] overcome sin [the “world” – 1Jo 2:16] by faithfulness to God’s commands which they do not find hard/burdensome”).
Maintaining the spiritual health of the church – or seeing to it that people are overcoming their sin is absolutely necessary not only to each individual’s salvation, but each church’s ability to continue as a place where God’s Spirit and salvation resides (Hence Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26, 3:5, 12, 21) = Each “overcome” message exists in the form of a conditional statement. IOW: only those who overcome their sin will receive the salvific/eternal promises mentioned.
With respect to the church see (Rev 2:5 “remove your lampstand out of its place”) = The lampstands in the Temple represented God’s spiritual presence and lit the way to inner sanctum/holy of holies – the place offering salvation. As such they represent both the Holy Spirit and salvation. Christ’s threat to remove the lampstand therefore refers to Him removing that church as a legitimate church – or dwelling place of His spirit and salvation.
3. To produce a church that is spiritually healthy – or characterized by people overcoming their sin (or being faithful to God’s commands), requires that her shepherd (senior pastor) and his under-shepherds (deacons/officers) be completely intolerant of seven particular sins. The reason Jesus chose the seven churches mentioned in Revelation (though there were many other churches), is because each of them possessed one (or the potential for one) of these seven sins:
3.1. Ephesus: Failure to give first loyalty to Jesus/His church/His words and gospel.
(Rev 2:1 w/4-5 ) “The One who holds…in His right hand…who walks” = Jesus is the One who created/owns us and cares for us most (Gen 3:8).
“left your first love” w/(Mat 10:27-37) = Our loyalty to Jesus includes preaching God’s words/gospel to our lost blood family members. Our loyalty to Jesus is also measured by our loyalty to His Body, the church (Mat 25:40 “to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers…you did it to Me”; “The blood of the covenant is stronger than the water of the womb”).
3.2. Smyrna: Failure to be faithful when suffering persecution.
(Rev 2:8-10) “first and the last” = Jesus is the only God. The largest cult of emperor worship (“Nero is Lord of the universe”) existed in Smyrna; “who was dead, and has come to life” = Docetism – or the belief that Jesus could not be a man or die, came only in spiritual form, also very popular in Smyrna;
“you will be tested…have tribulation…be faithful unto death” = The city’s devotion to the emperor as God and the popularity of Docetism within the local churches made employment/living as a true Christian very hard – even deadly (Mat 10:22).
3.3. Pergamum: Failure to be theologically, spiritually and sexually pure.
(Rev 2:12-16) “The One who has the two-edged sword” = Jesus possesses the real authority not only to destroy but heal. Pergamum worshipped the Asclepius – the Greek god of healing.
“I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is” = Asclepius was a serpent; e.g., symbol for modern medicine/medical science
“teaching of Balaam/Nicolaitans” = Doctrinal impurity. The church was teaching that it was okay to embrace the sin of your culture as a means of reaching others for Christ (e.g., the pragmatism of the mega-churches – “the ends justify the means”)
“eat things sacrificed to idols and commit acts of immorality” = Spiritual and sexual impurity. Christians were frequenting the temple of Asclepius to receive healing (e.g., our involvement in alternative medicine associated w/false religion; entertainment that is spiritually/sexually impure)”.
3.4. Thyatira: Failure to separate from false Christians or gospels.
(Rev 2:18-20) “The Son of God, whose has eyes like a flame of fire and His feet are like burnished bronze” = Jesus knows the true motives of our hearts (v19 and 23; also Rev 1:12-15 [picture of a king/judge sitting in judgment – “in the middle of the lampstands”]). Jesus’ stmt (ml) due to the excuses made by those unwilling to separate from false Christians/gospels (e.g., “I go to that church/hang out w/those people b/c I am trying to win them to Christ”).
“you tolerate the woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and leads my bondservants astray” = There were people in the church (not everyone – v24) who were not separating from this local false Christian teacher, yet the church did nothing about it (2Jo 1:9-11).
3.5. Sardis: Failure to take our Christian life seriously by being productive for the Kingdom of God.
(Rev 3:1-3) “He Who has the seven Spirits of God” = Jesus is the One Who determines who remains spiritually alive (Hence, “you have a name that you are alive but you are dead”).
“Wake up, strengthen the things that remain, which are about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed” = The Christians in Sardis were lazy and unproductive when it came to advancing the Kingdom and gospel. As a result they were about to lose their personal salvation and ability to offer salvation to others (as a church) (Mat 25:14-30; Luk 8:16-18).
3.6. Philadelphia: Failure to take on the religious giants condemning us as heretics or apostate.
(Rev 3:7-11) “He Who is holy who is true, who has the key of David…I have put before you an open door that no one can shut” = Jesus is the true King of Israel and His church the true re-constituted Israel that old Israel cannot oppose/reject (Rev 6:10-17).
“you have a little power [you are small in comparison to your opponents]…[yet] I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan [the majority group/the giants who condemn you and call you apostate – Act 24:14], who say they are Jews [i.e., the true followers of God] and are not…I will make them come and bow down at your feet”).
3.7. Laodicea: Failure to be truthful in their assessments of life, love, self or others.
(Rev 3:14-19) “the Amen” [the truth] the faithful and true Witness” = Jesus is the God Who demands truth.
“I wish that you were cold or hot” =I wish you were true to one degree or another (hot or cold)
“you say, ‘I am rich…and you are wretched and miserable and poor’” = You are untruthful in your assessment of self/life.
“blind” = You are untruthful in your assessment of others (Mat 7:5)
“those whom I love I reprove” = (ML) said for the purpose of correcting their wrong/untruthful view of love (e.g., slander, lies, revisionist history, holding onto/refusing to change from former views of the world or the way things work that are no longer true, viewing God’s shepherds/authority as those who hurt us rather than help us, viewing justice as a bad thing; Rev 21:8 “all liars” [all forms of liars] w/Mat 12:34-37).
4. Eradicating these seven sins will be a primary goal of all those functioning in any capacity as shepherds in Jesus’ churches (in our church!) (Rev 2:29).