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Memos from Jesus

A Study of Revelation 2 & 3

Memos from Jesus

by Dennis Pollock

There are two particular chapters in the book of Revelation that are incredibly valuable and totally unique in the Scriptures. They are chapters two and three, in which Jesus dictates brief letters, or you might even call them memos, to seven different churches of John's day. They are short, pithy, and to the point. While Paul's letters to the churches ran long and went into great length covering both doctrine and godly living, Jesus' memos are strictly concerned with the spiritual temperature and moral climate of the churches, and various issues that needed to be addressed. We sometimes lament that Jesus left no writings behind, but this is not altogether true. These short memos to the churches were His writings, dictated to John, and serve as a wonderful window into the mind of our Savior as He contemplates and assesses the assemblies of believers that met in His name.

These two chapters are so significant and distinctive they should be read by Christians over and over again. And yet strangely they are not especially popular in the churches. Pastors rarely preach on them and most Christians rarely read them. The 23rd Psalm we know well, and John 3:16 we know by heart. But if you were to ask most Christians what is found in Revelation 2 and 3, probably not very many would be able to tell you. Perhaps part of the reason for this is that they are found in the book of Revelation, a book which many Christians avoid at all costs, which is a great tragedy. Another reason is that these letters are a bit tough. They are not soft and easy exhortations about how much God loves them and if they will only have a little faith, He will make all their wildest dreams come true. Jesus is speaking as the Head of the church here, and He is not afraid to express His indignation when He finds His followers widely missing the mark. The memos all follow a similar pattern, and in this devotional we shall observe the various features of that pattern.

Jesus' ID

These memos all begin the same way: Jesus identifies Himself by giving a unique aspect of who He is. To one church He describes Himself as "He who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands" (referring to the churches). To another He calls Himself "the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life." In another case He says of Himself: "He who has the sharp two-edged sword." Another time He calls Himself: "The faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God." It is interesting that He never mentions Himself by His name, Jesus. The descriptions say it all, and He knows that His people will get it. The descriptions are never very long. Should Jesus want to go into great length about Himself, it would take a huge book to begin to cover it. But the short descriptions He does give are enough to engender respect, and to remind the believers that these words are not coming from some well-meaning friend or local preacher or self-appointed prophet. They are words from the mouth of the very Lord of life.

"I know your works"

The next thing we find in these memos is the sentence: "I know your works." He says this to each of the seven churches without a single exception. In the mind of Jesus, this must be incredibly important for both churches and individual believers. Some may find this strange. Having heard so often that salvation has nothing to do with works, they have erroneously concluded that works are almost entirely irrelevant in the Christian life. Anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of the Bible knows that this is entirely false. James tells us that faith without works is dead. In the little book of Titus, Paul, the greatest expositor of the grace of Jesus, hammers home the theme that Christians must do "good works." Perhaps fearing some people would pervert his grace teachings to mean that we need not bother ourselves with good works at all, he boldly declares that Jesus "gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14).

Not only do these memos tell us that Jesus is concerned about our works; they reveal that He is intimately aware of them. He doesn't have to guess at what we are doing or not doing. He carefully observes our every act and every failure to act. Some things He approves and appreciates, and some things He does not.

The very first church He addresses is an interesting example of this. He starts out with a wonderful compliment, telling the church at Ephesus, "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary" (Revelation 2:2,3). Wow! What a commendation! If I ever heard Jesus say this to me I would be feeling pretty good about myself. But He does not stop there. He goes on to say: "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love" (Revelation 2:4). The love these believer had for Jesus in the early days was waning. They were still doing a lot. Probably their works and labor for Jesus would put many of our modern churches to shame. But somehow the ardor wasn't there like it once was. Then Jesus reveals the evidence of this cooling-off: "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works" (Revelation 2:5) First He tells them that their love isn't what it used to be; then He tells them to repent and do the first works.

We see from this that there is a definite connection between a passionate love for Jesus and working diligently in His kingdom. People who are passionately in love with Jesus will find ways to serve Him. Whether they can preach or not, whether they have a golden voice or a voice that sounds like a rusty gate, whether they have a winning personality or no personality at all, whether they have lots of money to finance their ministry dreams or they struggle every month to pay the electric bill, whether they are admired by all and considered gifted, or ignored by all and have to look with a microscope to find even the tiniest gift in their lives, they will pray, they will cry, they will beseech the Lord of heaven over and over again until He opens a door for them to be fruitful in His service. They will find a way!

Commendations and Rebukes

 Everyone of us needs encouragement. When we work long and hard on any venture or endeavor, it lifts our spirits to have someone notice us and say, "good job." The Head of the church is aware of this, and in five of the seven memos He dictates to His churches He provides encouraging words. He tells the church at Philadelphia, "Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth" (Revelation 3:10). He commends the church at Thyatira that their last works are more than their first (Revelation 2:19). To the church at Pergamos He writes: "You hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith" (Revelation 2:13).

This is tremendously important because it shows us that as great as Jesus is, as holy and perfect as He is, He can still condescend to tell His stumbling, fumbling children that they are doing some things right. Sometimes we suppose that nothing we could ever do really pleases Him. Because of our flaws and warts, all our best efforts are stained, all our noblest endeavors are warped, and our highest accomplishments are far from perfect. This may be true, but it still does not stop our gracious Lord from speaking to our hearts and whispering, "Well done!"

On the other hand, Jesus is not at all shy about speaking words of criticism to His people. In fact out of the five churches He commends, with three of them He turns around and speaks critically about particular situations going on in them. With two of the churches, Sardis and Laodicea, He has nothing good at all to say. He tells the church at Sardis that they are dead, and the church at Laodicea that He is ready to vomit them out of His mouth.

Jesus makes threats

Jesus makes threats! I know some have a hard time associating our Lord with threats and assume He always goes around speaking words of blessing to one and all, but you do not get this impression from these memos to the churches. To a woman calling herself a prophetess and seducing the men of the church into sexual immorality, He threatens to kill her children. The Ephesian church is warned that if they don't get their act together, He will remove their lampstand, which meant He would shut down the church, or at least remove His presence from it. Jesus tells a group in Pergamos that He will fight against them with the sword of His mouth. Not exactly the soft, comforting words we normally associate with Jesus!

These memos reveal a great fallacy that is so often heard and taught in Christianity, actually two fallacies. The first is that since we are now in the age of grace God doesn't get mad anymore. Sure, the God of the Old Testament could get pretty hot with those complaining murmuring Israelites, even opening up the ground to swallow them alive in His fury. But that was then, this is now. When the Old Testament passed, God had a personality change. He is now more laid back, much more pleasant, and a whole lot more tolerant. These memos to the churches reveal that God can still get pretty upset. Although forgiveness is offered through Jesus Christ, God still gets angry when His children revel in carnality and trample on the blood of His Son Jesus Christ.

A second fallacy these memos reveal is the teaching which suggests that because we are saved by Jesus' grace He cannot see our sins anymore. When God looks at us, He always sees Jesus. It is as though there is a huge eight by eight foot glossy photo of Jesus that hangs over our heads at all times. While we indulge our passions in the bed of adultery, God looks down and only sees that enormous photo of Jesus. He never even notices that we are flagrantly defying one of His most fundamental commandments. While we lie to our boss, drink ourselves into a stupor, scream at our spouses, beat our children, snort cocaine, spend hours lusting over pornography, or break up our marriages because we have found a younger model, God looks down upon us, sees that beautiful picture of Jesus over our heads smiling back at Him, and says to Himself, "My, what wonderful, obedient children I have!"

This doctrine of "God cannot see my sins" is one of the most ridiculous and patently false teachings you will ever hear in the church of Jesus Christ. Through Christ God forgives us, justifies us, and does not eject us from His family when we sin. But the Almighty did not suffer a case of blindness when you were born again. Jesus says to the Laodicean church, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten" (Revelation 3:19). Make no mistake about it. The great Head of the church sees all we do, both our sins and our righteous deeds. The Bible says, "All things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13). And when the case calls for it, He will not hesitate to bring strong discipline upon His errant children.

Promises to Overcomers

Finish line

Jesus' memos to His people all end the same way: with a promise for overcomers. The Ephesians are told, "To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God" (Revelation 2:7). The believers at Smyrna are promised that "He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death," the believers at Pergamos are told, "To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat," and even the sickly church at Laodicea is promised, "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne." Every single church is given a promise for overcomers.

We notice that Jesus does not give these promises to "him that prays the sinners prayer," or to "him that signs a church membership card." This is not for "him that earns an attendance award for seven years running" or for "him that is baptized" or for "him that speaks with tongues" or "him that attends Bible studies, prayer meetings, and choir practices every week." The promises are for "him that overcomes."

From the moment you are born again, there are pressures that will come at you, pressures which are determined to make you fail in your walk with Christ. They come from three basic sources: the world, the flesh, and the devil and his demons. Sometimes these pressures will manifest in a great disappointment, sometimes a great loss, or some mysterious suffering that you cannot explain and seems to defy your belief in the goodness of God. Sometimes they will come as sexual temptation. At other times it may simply be the tough daily grind over a period of years that wears you down and moves you to draw back from church, from fellowship with other believers, and entices you to stop reading your Bible and move toward a secular life. There are only two choices for us in these things: we can either overcome these forces through faith in Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, or we can be overcome and to put it Biblically, "shrink back to destruction." Over and over in these memos Jesus encourages the believers then and now to be overcomers through faith in Him, and promises us great rewards for this.

Summing it up

In these seven short memos to His churches, we have a great treasure, an insight into the mind of our Lord concerning His people. We would do well to ask ourselves, "What if the Lord Jesus would write me such a letter? What would He say?" In most cases He would probably have commendations and criticisms. He would encourage us to overcome every force that tries to put a wedge between Him and us. And He would surely tell us those words He told the churches long ago: "I know your works."

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