Imagine a world in which a volatile leader stands as head over a powerful empire. His name is Domitian, and he’s the emperor of Rome. And the word “totalitarian-leaning” accurately describes his government. Firmly at the center of a cult of personality, he fancies himself the “new Augustus,” a self-appointed role that carries with it religious, military, and cultural propaganda. (Eventually, his court officials will assassinate him.) In short, the world is a complete mess from the top down.
In such a context, Jesus appears to the elder John in a vision. And Jesus tells him to write what he sees in what we now know as the Book of Revelation. The Lord has some specific messages for seven churches over which John is probably the overseer. The vision begins with a picture of the exalted Christ followed by seven post-card-length messages to the churches. Those messages still speak to Jesus’s followers today:
- Ephesus: Return to me with the love you once had, demonstrated in the deeds you first did.
- Smyrna: Remain faithful in suffering, even to death, and I will give you the crown of life.
- Pergamum: Conquer in a context of lies and immorality, and I will reward you.
- Thyatira: Hold on till I come, and I will give you authority over the nations.
- Sardis: Wake up and strengthen what remains; remember what you received and heard, and obey it and repent.
- Philadelphia: Hold on to what you have so no one can take away your crown.
- Laodicea: You think you are rich, but you are really poor. Be earnest and repent!
To Jesus’s original recipients in a world filled with volatile leadership, injustice, and violence, the Lord brought course corrections for His people, providing hope via a glimpse of his future rule in justice and righteousness. For those of us living on a planet that’s still enduring violent times and volatile leaders, Jesus’s exhortations have timeless relevance.
Which of the seven messages speaks most directly to where you live?