Dear Members and Friends of IBCZ,
When reading through the letters that Jesus dictates to John for the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 one can be left with an uneasy feeling. Jesus sends messages to the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea – and despite many positive points being made there is a very serious undertone.
What’s interesting is not only that these churches are all based in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, but also that they are vastly different from each other. Both, with regards to their socio-economic and cultural circumstances, as well as how Jesus assesses them.
On the positive side, Jesus finds that some of them have been hard-working; persevering in hardships for His name; watchful against false apostles and teachings; enduring afflictions, poverty, and slander. Some of them have remained true to Christ; increased in love and service; kept His word and haven’t denied His name, even when believers had lost their lives. – And it’s Philadelphia and Smyrna that stand out with no negative points being made.
On the negative side, Jesus points out that some of the churches have lost their initial love for Him, or even have a reputation of being dead; hold to the teaching of Balaam; being involved in sexual immorality, and the consumption of food sacrificed to idols; or – specifically in the case of Laodicea – are described as wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, naked, and worse still: ‘lukewarm’, making Jesus throw up.
If you were to visit the sites and cities of these churches today, you’d still find some archeological remains (some of them very impressive), but little to no signs of these churches. And that’s not only because Turkey’s main religion is Islam. Therefore, one could easily wonder what the significance of these letters should be? What’s the point of considering them when all one can see in their place are either heaps of rubble, ruins, …or nothing at all?
The power of these letters and these words of Jesus however – as all words in the bible – lies in the fact that they transcend time and space, right into our time and into Switzerland. In that sense all churches in the world carry at least some of the attributes of these seven churches. And so does our church, IBCZ, as it’s placed in an increasingly secular society that worships riches and worldly success.
How would we at IBCZ fare if Christ were to write a letter to us today? Could we look up to Him and smile, despite afflictions, because we endure in His strength? Or would we have to turn our face away in embarrassment, because of our selfish actions, relying in our own strength?
The undertone of these letters is serious. That’s because the role of the churches in this world is serious, as they are to point people to Jesus. Afflictions and difficulties are part of the deal and respective discipline is required by all members in order to fulfill the call. Let’s consider both the critique and the praise Jesus has for these seven churches and prayerfully ask Him to guide us to become more of a church that He’d be pleased with.
And so, yes, these letters do have a serious undertone. Their beauty however lies in the encouragement that Jesus has for many of these churches – and the prospects he presents before them for those who keep following Christ: The right to eat from the tree of life; the crown of life; the sparing of the second death, and the hour of trial; hidden manna; a white stone with a new name; authority over nations; or a pillar in the temple of God, to just name some of them. – In short: an eternal future in the presence of God.
Grace and peace,