Bible Study with Jairus- Revelation 2 (part 2)
God’s Provision in Difficult Times
Today we will look at the first three letters to the churches in Revelation 2. As we’ve discussed, these seven letters are structured like a sandwich, starting with praise, followed by criticism, and finishing with encouragement. But we often overlook the opening sentence of each letter, which reveals something about the nature of Jesus Christ.
The first sentence of each chapter of the Bible is often the key to understanding the entire chapter and paragraph, as it reveals the Holy Spirit’s summary of each chapter and section of the Bible. Therefore, we should pay special attention to the first sentence of each chapter and paragraph. This will help us understand the Bible better.
In the letters to the churches in Revelation, Jesus begins each letter with a revelation of a specific aspect of his character. This characteristic of Jesus is specifically related to the church’s unique trial or sin struggle.
For instance, the letter to the church in Ephesus first mentions that Jesus “holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands” (ESV, Revelation 2:1). Just like the Old Testament High Priest trimmed the wicks and added oil to make the golden lampstand shine brighter, Jesus trims the wicks of our hearts (removes our idols) and pours oil (the Holy Spirit) into our lives. First John 2:15 says, “if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him,” so we need Jesus’ help to remove these false loves. The seven stars in Jesus’ hands are the tools he uses to purify our hearts and make our lamps shine brighter.
The letter to the church in Smyrna mentions that Jesus is “the first and the last, who died and lived again” (Revelation 2:8). The letter goes on to discuss the characteristics of Jesus’ resurrection and the ways His resurrection provides for the persecuted church. The letter to the church in Pergamum mentions “a sharp two-edged sword” (Revelation 2:12), which reminds us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). This shows that the church in Pergamum had failed to keep the Lord’s word, leading to spiritual struggles. This church needed to learn to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) and resist heresy and wrong teachings so their witness to Christ could truly begin to shine. Jesus reminded each church of an aspect of his character that could help them in their unique circumstances.
Our Specific Weakness Forces Us to Depend on a Specific Aspect of God’s Character
Not only do churches have different weaknesses, but every person has them also. We all wish we were perfect, but we each have different flaws and weaknesses. Did you know that each specific flaw and weakness in your life provides a unique opportunity to depend on Christ in a specific way? For example, a person who is good-tempered by nature doesn’t need to learn and experience Christ’s patience. But a person who has a short temper has a unique opportunity to learn His patience. When we frequently focus on and pay attention to Christ’s patience, we will gradually be transformed into his image. We will experience spiritual transformation and become patient people. Friends around us who know that we are quick-tempered by nature will be astonished when they see the transformation Jesus has provided. “Only God could have done this! He is real,” they will say. In this way, we will become effective witnesses for Christ—even more than naturally good-tempered people.
Many times, our past failures and struggles become an excellent opportunity to be a witness for Christ. For example, a former drug addict sinned who has trusted in Jesus Christ and overcome his drug addiction can be a very good witness to other drug addicts. A woman who transitioned to the opposite gender and later regretted it has a unique story to tell. She can bear witness to the pain of changing her gender after believing the lies of the enemy in a way that other people cannot. She can testify to the beauty of the gender that God created in a way that most could never do.
This brings us to a crucial question: Are our eyes focused on our own failures, or are we focused on God’s provision in this area? Are we paying attention to the specific characteristics of God’s grace that we would have otherwise missed? I am not denying that our failures, weaknesses, and shortcomings cause pain to ourselves and God. I am saying that our primary attention should be on God’s specific characteristics that fill the specific gaps of our weaknesses. In this way, our lives will become a mirror that reflects the glory of the Lord, and gradually transforms us into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Similarly, when many people read the letters to the seven churches, they focus on the shortcomings of each church, rather than on God’s provision to help the churches overcome their struggles. We must focus on the characteristics of God’s provision and reflect on the ways God’s character can help us in our own shortcomings. Only then can we gradually achieve God’s calling and His expectations for our lives. Remember, the first sentence of Jesus Christ’s letter to the seven churches reveals an aspect of his character that can help the church with its unique struggles.
He Who Holds the Seven Stars In His Right Hand And Walks Among The Seven Golden Lampstands
One of the duties of the high priest in the Old Testament was to trim the wicks of the golden lampstand. When the wick itself starts to burn rather than burning the oil in the lamp, that wick must be trimmed so that it doesn’t start to smoke. Normally, when oil from the lamp penetrates the wick, the wick itself doesn’t burn—just like the flame in the burning bush did not burn the bush. When our hearts are full of God’s love and his oil, we flourish. But when our hearts love something else, our spirit will be not full of oil, and our fire will be dimmed or nearly extinguished. We will give off a burning smell. Therefore, just like the high priests in the Old Testament walked among the lampstands and trimmed the wicks in the sanctuary, the Lord Jesus will also trim the wicks of the church. As our heavenly High Priest, the Lord Jesus walks among our lampstands to trim away idolatrous love.
No one wants to be trimmed. The place where God prunes us is often the place that our flesh cherishes the most. But if God doesn’t prune us, those earthly things we cherish will eventually steal our oil and diminish our fire. God’s pruning and discipline allow us to learn the lesson of obedience. The Holy Spirit is given to those who obey him (Acts 5:32), so God’s pruning allows us to be filled even more with the oil of the Holy Spirit.
Now let’s dig into the meaning of the seven stars in the right hand of the Lord Jesus. Although we know they represent the angels of the seven churches (Revelation 1:20), who are the angels? Are they literal angels, or overcoming saints? Are they seven aspects of Jesus’ nature that can help the seven churches know how to act here on earth?
We know that in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, “wisdom” is personified as a woman. Proverbs 4:8 says, “Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her.” Who is “her”? Yet Isaiah 11:2 prophesies of Christ with similar language: “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” In this passage, “wisdom” refers to the Spirit of God or to an aspect of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The church is the body of Christ, and the seven churches are the seven manifestations of Jesus Christ, the head. Wouldn’t it make sense to say that the seven churches should manifest the seven divine characteristics of Jesus Christ or the seven aspects of the Holy Spirit?
For a moment, let’s set aside the idea that the seven stars are seven literal angels or seven overcoming saints. Wouldn’t it be strange to think of Jesus holding seven angels or seven believers in his hand? Wouldn’t it make more sense to see that Jesus holds seven manifestations of the Spirit or seven aspects of his personality: the High Priest, the Resurrection, the Word of God, the Judge, the Living Lord, the Holy One, and the True One, Amen? These characteristics of Christ correspond to the unique needs of each of the seven churches and are designed to help them be set free from their various weakness.
Holding the seven stars in His right hand, Jesus begins walking among the golden lampstands. He first illuminates a shortcoming of the church in Ephesus: they have forsaken their first love. The seven stars are not intended only for the church in Ephesus, but for all seven churches. Whenever the Bible mentions a principle, it is intended to be applied later as well. The seven stars are also mentioned in the letter to Sardis, so it’s clear that the seven stars are not only aimed at the church in Ephesus. Nor is the picture of Jesus walking among the golden lampstands aimed only at the church in Ephesus. At the same time, the picture of Jesus holding the seven stars in His right hand and walking among the golden lampstands is an excellent way to show how the problems of the church in Ephesus can be solved. The believers in Ephesus need to forsake the things that keep their hearts away from God, accept the pruning and discipline of the High Priest Jesus Christ, and return to their first love. They must be filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit so their golden lampstand shines brighter and is not removed from its place. If they harden their hearts and refuse to repent, God would remove their lampstand and they would lose their testimony.
The First, The Last; The One Who Died And Lived Again
When going through trials, believers and churches often ask, “God, where are You? Why do You allow these things to happen to me?” Jesus said, “In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). Suffering and trials are inevitable, and they bring victory and maturity in a way that a comfortable life does not. A Chinese brother was imprisoned for several years for smuggling and distributing Bibles. Later, he was about to leave for China and immigrate to the United States. A Christian brother was seeing him off. He said, “If you can continue to love the Lord when you arrive in the United States, you will be victorious.” The persecution brought about by suffering in China makes people more committed in their faith, while the comfortable life in the United States tempts them to become lax in their spiritual practice.
A dispensationalist view of this passage equates the church in Smyrna with the persecuted church in the early Roman Empire. This is true to a degree, but it’s also true that the persecuted church never goes away. The church will always be persecuted. Persecution and suffering are tools in the hands of God to help the church mature. Over the past few years, persecution of churches in Canada, the United States, and Europe has challenged the faith of many Christians. But it has also strengthened the faith of Christians in many European and American countries. Christians in Europe and the United States have been startled by the rampant oppression brought about by leftists and homosexuals, and they have tried to change this situation through political elections. But they encountered many setbacks. I still believe that the church in Europe and the United States will eventually awaken its power and bring about political reversals. But I also believe that persecution will continue to exist for a long time because God knows that persecution benefits the church. Just like cold weather helps plants grow deeper roots, persecution will help the church take root.
People’s natural reaction to persecution is to be discouraged and disappointed. But we must learn not to focus on our political setbacks and failures, or on our enemies, or on our disgrace. Instead, we must focus on God’s provision and the aspects of his character that can meet our specific needs. Jesus is “the first and the last, who died and lives again.” The church in Europe and America is currently experiencing a time of weakness and death. But one day, they will experience resurrection, and they will be able to testify even more powerfully that Jesus Christ is “the first, the last, who died and lived again.” The churches in Europe and America will one day put their enemies to shame with the church’s powerful testimony of resurrection.
I experienced a time of emotional death and resurrection during my ten years of infertility. My heartbreak and tears were like an emotional death. I walked through the valley of the shadow of death. But I also experienced God’s resurrection power. We must believe that our suffering is short-lived. “We will have tribulation for ten days,” but we will eventually receive the “crown of life.” These rewards are not just something we will receive when we die. They can be experienced today.
Sharp Two-Edged Sword
The sharp sword mentioned in this passage refers to the word of the Lord, which is as sharp and decisive as a double-edged sword. When the church ignores the word of God, demonic teachings will prevail. When we deny that the Bible is the word of God or tamper with His word, we gradually allow the church to become Satan’s throne (2:13). What is Satan’s throne? It’s a dominion of lies. God’s word is the truth, and when we ignore the truth, lies thrive.
When a church faces difficulty, it is facing the evil work of a specific evil spirit. For example, the church in Ephesus faced the spirit of indifference. Meanwhile, the church in Smyrna faced the spirit of death, and the church in Pergamum faced a spirit of error.
When the spirit of error operates in a church body, truth is distorted. When the truth no longer guides believers, the church will be plunged into darkness. Any believers who continue to hold onto the truth, will be persecuted by false and evil spirits working through false and religious believers. For example, Antipas of the church in Pergamum, who was called a faithful witness by the Lord, was persecuted and killed. The spirit of error always persecutes those who hold to the truth. For example, Jesus and Paul were persecuted by Judaism, and Martin Luther was persecuted by Catholicism.
A church can fail to keep God’s word in several ways. Some fail by allowing people to sin and commit sexual immorality, not taking God’s word seriously. This church loses God’s blessings because it holds to the teachings of the Nicolaitans and of Balaam. Other times, religious teachers hold a monopoly on the interpretation of God’s word, even prohibiting people from studying it for themselves. For example, Catholics historically would not allow lay people to read the Bible. Only the clergy could read the Latin Bible, and then the pope would teach doctrine to the people. God wants all believers to be able to read His word.
Fallen churches that have failed to learn and keep God’s word must repent. They must study and hold on to His word. If they do not repent, the Lord will come to them with the sword of His mouth. The sword in His mouth represents his words of provision and judgment. The church in Pergamum failed because it did not hold on to His word. But Jesus’ sharp double-edged sword, which represents the living Word of God, could bring health and wholeness to the church.
Recently, the Methodist Church, a large denomination in the United States, went through a major split. The reason for the split was that a liberal faction rejected the authority of the Bible and began to support homosexuality. The conservative faction advocated for biblical authority and opposed homosexuality. Even though this church’s inception was influenced by John Wesley, a large portion of the denomination has abandoned not only the traditions of John Wesley but also the Bible as a whole.
In the letters that Lord Jesus Christ wrote to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos, He provided specifically for their individual needs. To the failing and indifferent church in Ephesus, the Lord Jesus revealed that He is the High Priest who holds seven stars in His hand. Just like the Old Testament high priest trimmed the wicks with the scissors in his hand, the Lord Jesus will also prune us and restore us to our first love. To a church that had been threatened with physical death (Smyrna), Jesus Christ revealed that He is the resurrection. To a failing church that was abandoning the word of God (Pergamum), Jesus revealed that He is the living Word of God, like a sharp double-edged sword. When we focus on these characteristics of Jesus Christ, we will be transformed into His likeness. The key to victory is to look to and reflect on Christ, and not just look at our weaknesses.
 All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.