Reading the Oracles to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor

Revelation 1:11, 19

11 “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” (see Map below).

asia minor map public domain

Route of the Letters from Patmos (public domain)

Brief introduction to the Letters to the Seven Churches Rev. 2-3 

Jesus both knows our circumstances and spiritual condition

The letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor form a distinct unit in the book of Revelation. However, they are integrally connected to the vision of chapter one. Christ, the author of the letters, identifies himself to each church by means of a descriptive phrase taken from the vision in chapter one. The phrase for each letter is also appropriate to the need of the specific church at the time. (See the figure below).

literary-links-chap-1-2-3.jpg

Jesus Speaks to His Church in All Ages

Several scholars have pointed out that the messages are not letters in the sense of epistles like Paul, Peter, James, and John wrote. They are closer to “Oracles” that Old Testament prophets spoke and wrote. 

“…Oracles were prophecies since they often referred to the future; but oracles sometimes dealt with decisions to be made in the present. Usually, in the Bible the communication was from [Jehovah” KJV] the God of Israel” (see Holman below). 

OT Scholars distinguish between: (1) decision oracles and (2) pronouncement oracles (see Holman below). Decision oracles come when we seek guidance from God and receive His communication in answer. Pronouncement oracles come from God when He wants to communicate with us, and not when asked by man.

Jesus speaks to individuals in churches of all ages. 

We must not read messages from God in His Word as if they are for churches only. They are for churches, but they are addressed to individual listeners! “He (singular) who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (plural).” The oracles to the seven churches in Revelation are pronouncement oracles to you and me.

“The great problem in the church’s interpretation of Scripture has been its ecclesiastical orientation, as though God speaks only to the church, and commands only the church. The Lord God speaks in and through His Word to the whole man, to every man, and to every area of life and thought” (see Romans and Galatians below). 

I remember in a doctoral seminar once we were discussing personality disorders. 

“[Personality disorders] involve long-term patterns of thoughts and behaviors that are unhealthy and inflexible. The behaviors cause serious problems with relationships and work. People with personality disorders have trouble dealing with everyday stresses and problems.”

For example, narcissism is an unhealthy love of one’s own self. A narcissist cannot give to others in a relationship without being the chief beneficiary of that giving. (see Medicine Plus below). 

The professor who facilitated the class was a Doctor of Clinical Psychology, in practice for many years. He said first in importance is that we ought not to look around us and diagnose others. He said we ought to see bits and pieces of these disorders in ourselves as fallen human beings. We ought to see ourselves as recovering from these distortions. They mar our ability to reflect the image of God in our lives.

schaeffer

Francis Schaeffer (pictured) helps us in his excellent volume, True Spirituality (see Schaeffer below). No one but Jesus was sinless. Schaeffer says perfection always eludes us in this life. However, we can and should expect substantial healing in our being as we follow Christ.  

I remember when I was younger hearing some older adults say they did not sin any longer. That is, they didn’t sin by their own definition of sin. Let me explain.

My mother confronted one such person who boasted of being sinless. Mother asked, “What about last week when you lost your temper with Gladys?” She retorted, “I make mistakes, but that’s not a sin.” Well, not by her definition, but it is by God’s. I John 3:3b says “sin is lawlessness (breaking God’s Law)” (see ESV below).

My mother’s coworker reminded me of the 5 year old who suddenly exclaimed to his mother that he was six feet tall. She asked how he determined that. He replied, “I made my own ruler and measured myself!” God has the moral ruler and He does the measuring. 

When we read John’s Seven Oracles from the Risen Christ we ought to look for bits and pieces of that communication in ourselves as individuals. After all, we say the church is people, not bricks and mortar. It would be easier to diagnose other churches than the one we attend, but there we ought to see bits and pieces of the Oracles in our congregation, too. 

The Seven Oracles are God’s word that demands a response. They are communications from the King of Kings that demand a verdict. We ought to read them and bow in confession of sin when we see it. We ought to be stirred up if we are complacent. We ought to be encouraged by commendation when it applies to us. 

General Application of Letters to Seven Churches

Seven Letters revised

Comments about the application

Each letter follows a general pattern.

(1) A different aspect of Christ’s character from Rev. 1:12-20 addresses the deepest need of that particular Church. (see Literary Links Chart above).

(2) Three areas of need are covered:

Complacency in Christian witness;
Complicity with Roman Imperial System; &
Commendation of the good works that are already there.

(3) A strategy is put forward for each need to heal that Church:

Stir-up the complacent
Correct the complicit
Commend the good

I hope this helps in our approach to the letters to the seven churches.

We’ll get into Chapter 2 next time!!!

Notes

Most of this material is drawn from my notes on Bible Survey of the New Testament which I have taught over the years at several institutions. 

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition. Insights from Gordon Fee’s Commentary on Revelation also have been incorporated into my past notes.

Holman Bbie Dictionary. (2018). Accessed March 1, 2019 from https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/o/oracles.html

Medicine Plus. (2019). Accessed March 1, 2019 from https://medlineplus.gov/personalitydisorders.html

Romans and Galatians. (2019). Accessed March 1, 2019 from https://chalcedon.edu/resources/books/romans-and-galatians

Schaeffer, F. (1971). True Spirituality. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale Publishers.

© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

 

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