Sumatra with the Seven Churches
The Main Thing
Revelation 1:7 “Look! He is returning with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes on the earth will mourn because of him. This will certainly come to pass! Amen.”
Think for a moment about the different sorts of letters you receive. A thank-you note. A notification of bad news. A postcard bringing greetings from another continent. A past-due notice. A shower invitation.
Think, too, of the ways we communicate with each other. Snail mail. Twitter. Blogs. Email. YouTube. Text-messaging. Scribbling a note and posting it somewhere. Using the telephone.
Two thousand years ago when God wanted to communicate, he often did so while people were awake, through visions, or while they were asleep, through dreams. So when Jesus wanted to communicate a message to seven churches in Asia Minor, He appeared to John—perhaps their overseer—in a vision. And what John saw were some amazing “things to come.”
Jesus told John to record what he saw, and as a result, we have the Book of Revelation. As mentioned, in this study we will explore only the part comprised of the seven letters to the churches. Still, it helps to begin with an overview of the entire Book of Revelation so we understand the setting in which the letters appear.
Revelation begins with a vision of the high and exalted Christ. Once the Revealer provides a glimpse of His glory, He instructs John through twenty-two separate visions. And in the beginning of those visions, John receives seven messages to give to seven literal churches.
Many who study the seven letters identify seven corresponding periods of church history, concluding that we are now in the “Laodicean” or last period. We have chosen not to approach the text this way, which would limit our view to only the final message. Instead, we will consider every one of the seven letters as having much to teach us. In effect the churches’ mail is our mail, because the words spoken to Christ-followers in the distant past provide timeless instruction that’s still relevant.
The overall structure of the Book of Revelation is as follows: First, Jesus appears. Then He gives messages to the churches. After that we find a vision of the Judge and His judgments. Then we have a vision of the Coming King, followed by a picture of the coming kingdom.
The seven letters to the churches are really post-card-length messages, and they differ from most of the Book of Revelation in that they consist of straight prose while the rest is apocalyptic. Each letter includes most or all of the following elements: a description of Jesus Christ, a commendation, an exhortation, a criticism, and a promise to those who overcome. Though Jesus directed His messages to these specific churches, we can read their mail and learn about what’s important to Him. We see what He rebukes, exhorts, commends, and blesses, and we find application in our own time.
The main focus of the letters and the entire vision is that Jesus will most certainly return, and He will do so unexpectedly, so His followers must be ready at any moment.
To the weary who are persevering, He brings reward and relief. To those living only for themselves, He brings judgment. Today we often hear about Jesus being our buddy, our friend, and our pal. Yet while Christ does love and have compassion for His children, that is not the whole picture. He is also the Almighty, the All-knowing, the Omnipresent King and Creator, to whom worship and obedience are due. He makes the mountains roar and the lightning flash. He is the Ancient of Days, holy, righteous, and pure. When He judges, He will judge righteously because He, the impartial One, knows all and misunderstands nothing.
When you think of His coming, do you look forward to blessing and relief? Or does “stuff of earth” compete with your desire to see Him? Do you want to be married first, or have children first, or have grandchildren first, or finish something first? Are you living with only the here-and-now in view, or do you delight at the thought that at any moment you could see His face?
What needs to shift in your focus so your greatest desire is to see the face of Jesus Christ?
Excerpted from Sumatra with the Seven Churches (AMG) by Sandra Glahn and Crickett Keeth. This book is part of the Coffee Cup Bible Study Series.
About the Contributors
Sandra L. Glahn
In addition to teaching on-campus classes, Dr. Glahn teaches immersive courses in Italy and Great Britain, as well as immersive courses in writing and in worship. Dr. Glahn is a multi-published author of both fiction and non-fiction, a journalist, and a speaker who advocates for thinking that transforms, especially on topics relating to art, gender, sexual intimacy in marriage, and first-century backgrounds as they relate to gender. Dr. Glahn’s more than twenty books reveal her interests in bioethics, sexuality, and biblical women. She has also written eleven Bible studies in the Coffee Cup Bible Study series. A regular blogger at Engage, bible.org’s site for women in Christian leadership, she is the owner of Aspire Productions, and served as editor-in-chief for Kindred Spirit from 1999 to 2016. She and her husband have one adult daughter.