When in the book of Revelation Christ addresses himself to the Asian churches, he follows a general order of items. This, yes, pattern is suggestive, that Christ works by a pattern, and lays down a pattern of work, worship and behavior for his people. (See previous post.)
In his addresses, he invariably includes toward the end of each message this phrase, reminiscent of what he said while on earth: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7 etc., NET).
With one exception, there are problems in the churches, which, in some point or other, doctrinally, morally or spiritually, have failed to keep faithfully the pattern set forth for their obedience. “… the Lord is intimately aware of and concerned about the internal and external conditions of His congregations” (Young 768). Christ threatens judgment, and to the Ephesian church, he says, “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place – that is, if you do not repent” (2:5).
For deviations from the holy pattern, repentance is the answer. A return to following exactly what he has set forth will keep judgment away. For the basis of judgment is the works of the churches. “I will repay each one of you what your deeds deserve” (2:23).
This principle spans both Testaments, or covenants, that God will judge according to our works. In the great treatise on justification by faith, Paul declares it as well, as he quotes the Old Testament (Romans 2:5-11), for salvation comes from the “obedience of faith” (1:5; 16:26).
This is the same as keeping Christ’s word (3:10). That pattern of teaching was “received and heard”; it must be obeyed (3:3; cp. Romans 6:17). The word “received” harkens back to the “apostolic tradition of the gospel” (Johnson 449), which is that fixed body of teaching about Christ and life in him. Or, as BGAD defines tradition, “the content of instruction that has been handed down.”
In the New Testament, “tradition” is Christian teaching, says the TDNT, and Paul “demands that the churches should keep to it, since salvation depends on it (1 C. 15:2)” (II: 172). He so demands, because his Lord demands it. And that is the whole reason for Christ’s messages to the churches, to confirm those points in which the churches are obedient to the inspired tradition that was handed down to them and which they “received,” and to shore them up where they have dropped the ball. Hence, the calls to repentance.
Repentance in the churches means life: “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (3:5 NASB).
This promise has its darker side: the failure to obey the word of Christ means one’s name will be blotted out from the book of life.
If these pointers from the messages to the Asian churches, do not indicate that a pattern of work, worship and behavior exists for the people of God, then Christ is — forgive my saying so — unjust in judging for failures to keep it properly.
Christ’s word is not like some parents who tell their children to do something and then never notice if their instructions are carried out or not. What he says, he expects to be done. When he speaks, he demands to be heard. When he sets forth his pattern for the church, as Lord he requires obedience.
That is why he says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
JOHNSON, Alan F. 1981 “Revelation,” in Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans): 399-603.
YOUNG, Tyler 2003 “The Book of Revelation,” in Tommy J. Hicks, ed., “The Revelation of the Mystery:” An Introductory Survey of the New Testament (Lubbock TX: Hicks Publications): 736-94.