I want to offer some thoughts on Revelation chs 2&3.
I looked at them before, when I was considering how the churches were being warned about the dangers facing them;
The seven churches (have been warned-pt1)
The seven churches (have been warned- pt2)
But now I'm going to be asking the question. what are the promises
that are being given to the churches?
These letters are being sent to the churches in the name of the Christ who showed himself to John in the first chapter. Each time he introduces
himself by referring to one of the details in the earlier vision (but I don't think there's much to be gained from trying to match the details to the
Then he addresses each church according to their circumstances. Presumably they would have been relevant in the first instance to the named churches
of John's own time, who should have been able to recognise themselves in the descriptions and apply the advice accordingly.
Some people try to understand the different letters in terms of the various stages in the history of the church- not easy, since they seem to have
similar backgrounds, at any rate.
Ministers with oversight of congregations like to use them to preach on the theme "Which one do we most resemble?"- a series of seven sermons,
inevitably finishing with the conveniently ambiguous verdict of Laodicea.
But Revelation is a book written for the benefit of a church under persecution. So these letters can be applied most usefully by a church in similar
circumstances, facing a general persecution combined with the temptations of other religions. Different parts of the church would be responding to the
troubles with different degrees of success, It would then be possible for them to look into the letters and apply to themselves whatever words of
rebuke or encouragement would be most appropriate for the way they were dealing with the crisis.
But each of these letters concludes with a promise given by Christ to those who are able to "conquer" the difficulties, and those promises are going
to be my main concern.
"to him I will give to eat of the tree of Life"
The theme of the tree of Life is familiar from Genesis.
The two threes in the Garden, the "tree of the Knowledge of good and evil" and the "tree of Life".
Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat from the tree of Knowledge.
But they were not forbidden to eat from the tree of Life.
The obvious implication is that they did eat from the tree of Life (what would have stopped them?).
Then, when they fell into sin, God removed them from the Garden with the express purpose that they should not [continue to] eat its fruit.
(This is not the usual understanding of the "tree of Life", but the usual understanding creates logical tangles which this one avoids)
So they were denied access to Life and became subject to death- they were demoted, as it were, from "Life" to "life".
So the promise of the fruit of the tree (which is fulfilled in ch22) is an offer to restore what was lost to them by sin.
So the promise given to the church in Ephesus is the promise of Life.
"he shall not be hurt by the second death"
This promise, like several of the others, can best be understood after reading Revelation through to the end (one wonders if these chapters were the
last portion of the book to be written).
The explanation is given in ch20 that the "second death" is experienced by those whose names are not written in the "Book of Life". That is to say,
they don't qualify to enjoy the new Jerusalem, Life in the presence of God, described in the following chapters. So clearly not
being hurt by
"the second death" means becoming part of the new city.
So the promise given to the church in Smyrna is the promise of Life.
"to him I will give to eat of the hidden manna"
"I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone"
The original manna was the food God gave to the Israelites in the wilderness.
But this manna, as Jesus pointed out, was not "the true bread from heaven".
"Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died... I am the living bread which comes down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he
will live for ever."- John ch6 49-51
The "hidden" (or spiritual) manna is clearly meant to indicate that same "bread from heaven".
So this is another version of the promise of the tree of Life, relating it to the Life which comes direct from Christ.
The "white stone" has been interpreted in a number of ways. I think the interpretation which best fits the developing theme of these promises is that
it signifies the absence of guilt.
One explanation sometimes offered is that a white stone was used in trials to indicate a "not guilty verdict".
Alternatively- and not for the first time in Revelation- there may be a reference to Zechariah's vision about the High Priest Joshua;
"Upon the stone which I have set before Joshua...I will engrave its inscription, says the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the guilt of this land in a
single day"- Zechariah ch3 v9
Whatever that white stone represents (commentators disagree), the significance is clearly the removal of guilt.
The "new name" is also about freedom from sin.
Having a "new name" means having a new identity, a new kind of character. More than once, in the prophets, God tells his people that he will give them
a new name after the relationship has been healed. He has known them as "Not-pitied" or "Not-my-people" (Hosea ch1 vv8-9), and he has known them as
"Forsaken" or "Desolate" (Isaiah ch62 v4), but he promises to give them different names. The new names he offers, like "Hephzibah" ("my
delight-is-in-her") and "Beulah" ("married") are the symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation.
The new, spiritual, name mentioned here would have the same significance.
So the white stone with the new name indicates freedom from sin.
But sin was the obstacle which prevented access to the tree of Life.
So the combined promises made to the church in Pergamum add up to the promise of Life.
"I will give him power over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron...
I will give him the morning star"
These things are part of the description of the glory that belongs to Christ himself.
The Lord says to "my son" in the Psalms;
"You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel"- psalm 2 v9
And this is quoted as the destiny of the "male child" born in Revelation ch12 v5.
While "the morning star" is a title which Christ claims for himself in ch22 v16.
So receiving these things means being closely identified with Christ.
It means belonging to Christ, being part of him- even "ruling" together with him.
And the consequence of belonging to Christ is freedom from sin;
"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ
"- Romans ch8 v1
So belonging to Christ implies freedom from sin
And freedom from sin implies renewed access to the tree of Life.
So the promise given to the church in Thyatira is the promise of Life.
"shall be clad in white garments"
"I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life"
"I will confess his name before my Father"
These are alternative ways of describing the promises we've already seen.
When Jesus is "confessing" his followers before his father, that means he is claiming them as his own.
"So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my father who is in heaven"- Matthew ch10 v32
But belonging to Christ, as Paul showed us, is the precondition for freedom from sin.
Being clad in white garments, like having a new name, is the symbol of that new freedom from sin.
Just as the filthy garments were taken away from the High Priet Joshua, in the Zechariah vision already mentioned, and replaced by clean ones.
And similarly white robes are given to the saints in heaven in the later chapters of Revelation.
But freedom from sin, as we've already observed, is the precondition for access to Life.
Finally, we know from the previous reference to ch20 that not
being blotted out of the Book of Life is the same thing as not
the "second death". It means entering a new Life in the new Jerusalem.
So the promises being given to the church in Sardis add up to the promise of Life.
"I will make him a pillar in the Temple"
"I will write on him the name of God and the name of the city of my God...and my own new name"
The meaning of "pillar" is fully explained by the following phrase- "never shall he go out of it". A pillar is a permanent fixture. This is someone
who will never leave the presence of God.
To have the "name" of someone is to be closely identified with them, to belong to them.
So to have the name of God means to belong to God.
The "city of God" is the new Jerusalem described at the end of Revelation, representing God's people and the place where they dwell.
So to have the name of that city means to belong to God's people.
And to have the name of Christ means to belong to Christ.
All these things belong together, follow on from one another.
He remains in the presence of God because he belongs to God.
He belongs to God because he belongs to God's people.
And he belongs to God's people because he belongs to Christ.
That is the key to his permanent presence in the Temple.
So the promise given to the church in Philadelphia is the promise of Life.
"I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne"
In other words, Christ carries him into the presence of the Father, so that he might live (and reign) in the company of both of them.
This is the summary and completion of everything said in the previous promises.
And, of course, the implication is eternal Life in the presence of God.
So the promise given to the church in Laodicea is the promise of Life.
And this promise of Life is the promise that is fulfilled in the final chapters of Revelation.
edit on 12-9-2010 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)