Jesus Calling is one of the most popular devotionals in the world. People long to hear a direct word from Jesus Christ, and the author claims to deliver just that in her daily inspirational thoughts, presented to readers as personal messages from Jesus himself. Interestingly, the words of Jesus in the Scriptures read a bit differently from the positive, sentimental words in the devotional. Beyond that, Jesus has indeed sent a direct message to his churches, recorded for us by John in Revelation chapters two and three: the letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor. However, these authentic and Spirit-inspired messages can get a little fiery…
Scripture teaches that followers of Jesus are “set apart” from the world: we are called out from unbelievers and devoted to God (Romans 1:1, 6-7). Christ both expects and enables his followers to be different (unique, separate) from the world in what we love and how we live. At conversion, Christ and his gospel becomes our life, our purpose, our joy and our focus; this is what it means to be set apart. But sin hinders and destroys our distinction from the world.
Let’s consider Jesus’ message to his churches in Revelation. A simple overview of Jesus’ words to these congregations speak volumes to us as we follow him today.
Jesus Knows His Churches (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19, 23; 3:1, 8, 15)
First, Jesus has perfect, intimate knowledge of his people (The Lord knows those who are his – 2 Tim 2:19a). Jesus keeps opening his words to his congregations by telling them, “I know your works… I know your tribulation… I know where you dwell” (2:2, 9, 13). He knows the overall condition of each corporate church (2:9), and he knows the individual members (2:14). He sees all, from our works, to the ulterior motives we hide within (“I am he who searches mind and heart” – 2:23). Jesus knows what we are doing, how we are living, who we are living for. There is no hiding from the Lord. All will one day be made known, and judgment will be just (“I will give to each of you according to your works” – 2:23).
Jesus Loves His Churches (3:9, 19)
Though there are many negative statements, rebukes, and challenges to the churches in Jesus’ words, the Lord does confirm his love for his people. This is the reason he is correcting them! John began the book of Revelation affirming Christ’s love for the church: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood…” (1:5b). Always in Scripture we are called to look to the cross to see Jesus’ love for his people (Rom 1:5). Christ loved the church, and give himself up for her (Eph 5:25). How precious to Jesus are his sheep! We who believe are loved by the Father, chosen and given to Christ, who has redeemed us and brought us into the “Beloved” (Eph 1:6). Jesus is pictured in Revelation as present in the midst of the churches (1:13, 20). We must remember the great honor and privilege of being counted among the church of Jesus Christ. While we were sinners, he set his love on us, redeemed us, and included us. This should bring us to humble brokenness before him, and cause us to respond to his grace in worship and lives dedicated to his glory.
Jesus Calls His Churches to Repent of Sin (2:5, 16, 21-22; 3:3, 19)
It may be striking to some how strong Jesus’ words are in these letters to his churches. He consistently deals with the sin that is present in his churches, both corporately (2:4, 20) and in individual members (2:14, 15, 22). Jesus simply will not water down the sin, but calls it what it is, using ugly names: “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (2:4); “I also hate” (the works of the Nicolaitans – 2:7); “seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality…” (2:20); “you are dead…I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God” (3:2); “you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (3:17).
We may prefer a sappy, emotional, positive thought of the day, but Jesus loves us too much to withhold the truth we need to hear. The Lord absolutely hates sin, and will not tolerate continued sin among his people. He promises his churches that if they will not repent, he will act decisively against them! Again, he uses very strong and shocking language: “repent…if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (2:5). Here Jesus promises to remove them from being a church if they continue in sin! He will not claim them on the day of judgment, for their continued sin will be evidence that they do not belong to him. And there is more: Jesus threatens to come to un-repenting churches and make war against them with the sword of his mouth (2:16), to make them sick and even kill some of their members (2:22-23), to surprise them like a thief who has come “against them” (3:3), and to even vomit them out of his mouth in disgust (3:16)! Popular Christianity cannot fathom Jesus speaking like this; yet, these are the true words of Christ, who hates sin and loves his people enough to say something about it.
Jesus Calls His Churches to Faithful Endurance (2:3, 10, 13, 19, 25, 26; 3:10-11)
The final consistent message of Jesus to his churches in these letters is a call to faithfully endure through suffering and trials, until Christ returns. It won’t be easy to be a church who belongs to Jesus in a hostile world. It won’t be easy to maintain a distinction between God’s people and a world given to sin. It won’t be easy to experience suffering, persecution, and hardships because of the life of holiness to the Lord that we pursue. We must know this going in. God will not remove pain from his people, but will enable us to endure through it for his glory. We will face temptations, trials, attacks, and even death. Many will fall away and join the ranks of the unbelievers. Many will hide like cowards among the believers, professing faith in Jesus while secretly giving themselves to worldly pursuits. But no matter what, Jesus calls us to endure in him, for him, until he returns. And he promises great reward to those who do!
To church after church in these letters, Jesus continues to repeat his promise, “To the one who conquers I will…” Conquering implies a battle! Christ has dealt the death blow to all enemies, but we are called to stand in him and fight the fight of faith, enduring until he comes. He gives us strength, but he does not make it easy. Jesus will reward his persevering church when he comes, with unimaginable glories, described in these letters in symbolic terms (2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 12, 21).
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (3:22).
As the beloved people of God, purchased by the blood of Christ, and set apart to the Lord in holiness, let us consider seriously Jesus’ words to his churches. Let us refuse to tolerate sin and spiritual laziness in our lives and churches any longer, but open the door of the church to the Lord who loves us and wants to fellowship with us (3:20). Let us repent and serve the Lord faithfully until he comes, in the strength he provides! Let us encourage one another in the church and walk in the obedience of faith together! Let us be diligent and grow in grace (2 Peter 3:14, 17-18) while we wait on the Lord!