Performance reviews – and Revelation 2-3

Are you in a job where you have annual performance reviews? You know, where you talk about your goals and accomplishments. Mine tend to go a bit like this:

(c) 2014 Scott Adams, Inc.

In theory, it should be a time when you set lofty, noble aims of what you want to achieve in the coming year, and then your employer agrees to support you in your endeavour to realise these goals. But if you’re any good at doing performance reviews, in practice what you’ll do is list a few things that sound impressive, but have next to no chance of failing. So when reality takes hold toward the end of the year and you get no time to do anything, on paper you’ll still look like an achiever.

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The Letter to Ephesus – Part One (Rev 2:1-7)

Yesterday we began a series through the letters to the seven churches, found in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. So far, we’ve just looked at some background, and the fact that these “performance reviews” follow the same basic pattern:

  • Who’s speaking: a way of describing Jesus
  • What’s good: an affirmation of what the church is doing well
  • What’s bad: a charge against the church for what it’s failing to do
  • How to get back on track: an exhortation to repent and set things right
  • A warning: of what will happen if they don’t
  • A promise: of what’s in store if they do

Today, we’re looking at the letter to Ephesus (2:1-7) under these headings.

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The Letter to Smyrna (Rev 2:8-11)

The second church addressed by Jesus in Revelation chapter 2 is the one in Smyrna. It’s one of the two churches about whom Jesus doesn’t have a negative word to say. (The other one is Philadelphia). Interestingly, these two churches who were the most faithful were also the ones who were undergoing the most serious persecution. Coincidence? Probably not.

Let’s read the letter now. As you do, see if you can spot the pairs of opposites that seem to be the theme of this letter.

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The Letter to Pergamum – Part One (Rev 2:12-17)

The third letter in Revelation chapter 2 is addressed to the church at Pergamum. We’re going to look at it over two days. Today, we’ll read the text and explain some of the imagery that’s going on – particularly the Old Testament background. And tomorrow, we’ll try to enter into the mindset of the believers at Pergamum, to work out how things had gone so far off track.

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The Letter to Pergamum – Part Two (Rev 2:12-17)

Yesterday, we looked at the letter to Pergamum in Revelation chapter two. We saw how the church had been faithful in the past under intense persecution, but more recently had been lured into idolatry, the “teaching of Balaam” and the Nicolaitans. And we asked the question: why would a church of Jesus Christ need this warning about idolatry? Isn’t it obvious? Shouldn’t it be unnecessary – a warning not to go back to something inferior? What kind of weak-willed Christians were they that required this?

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The Letter to Thyatira – (Rev 2:18-29)

The fourth letter in Revelation chapter 2 is addressed to the church at Thyatira. It’s quite a long one. But it seems to describe a situation quite similar to that of the previous letter, the one to Pergamum.  So we won’t spend a lot of time applying it today, instead we’ll move quickly through the text explaining some of the imagery as we go.

Who’s speaking?

2:18 To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

This is the only time Jesus is referred to as the “Son of God” in Revelation. It’s probably used here because there’s a quotation later in this letter from Psalm 2, which is about Israel’s king being God’s “son,” or representative.

What’s good?

2:19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

A very brief positive note, before we get to the bad stuff. And an acknowledgement that things are improving.

What’s bad?

2:20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.

In the previous letter, Jesus used the imagery of Balaam to talk about idolatry. Here, he uses the story of Jezebel (see 2 Kings 9) as a metaphor for the same thing.

2:21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.

Jesus has given this false teacher (or group of false teachers) time to repent, but the time is now up.

A warning

2:22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.

The metaphorical punishment (being cast on a bed of suffering) fits the metaphorical crime (adultery).

2:23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

“Her children” probably refers to the followers of this false teacher.

2:24-25 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’

What are “Satan’s so-called deep secrets”? It could be simply a way of characterising the false teaching as being from Satan. Or it may be using the language of the false teachers who claimed to have “deep secrets” from God, and Jesus is here saying that if there are any “deep secrets” going around, they’re from someone else…

A promise

2:26-27 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father.

The promise to the one who remains faithful: they will rule with Christ. The quotation is from Psalm 2, about David (and his descendents). So those who are victorious will perform a kingly role as God’s representatives.

2:28 I will also give that one the morning star.

The morning star is Venus, and in the ancient world was symbolic of victory and of imperial authority.

There’s also a reference to this term “morning star” in Isaiah, referring to the king of Babylon:

Isa 14:12 How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!

This taps into a Canaanite myth about a star-god who rebels against the head god. In Revelation 12 the story of Satan’s rebellion also gets cast in these terms.

So the term “morning star” might be ironic. Although rebellious creatures (whether they be the king of Babylon in Isaiah’s day, or the Roman Emperor, or Satan, or the current “Jezebel” in Thyatira) might think they’re the morning star (that the sun shines out of their proverbial) – they’ll be cut down in the end. Because the true morning star is Jesus, and he’s the one we’ll be given.

2:29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

So listen up.