Would God be pleased with the way Christians are living today? Why?

10/29/2020 04:53 PM - Permalink

I’m not a huge fan of answering this question, frankly, because my opinions (though I have many) don’t actually matter. You’re asking a man to speak for God, which is a daunting if not dangerous task.

But what if I told you we actually have a series of letters from the Lord Jesus Christ — God Himself — that specifically answer this question?

The briefest answer is “Yes and no.” The harder part is discerning the “Why?”

No matter what your stance for interpretting the Apocalypse (not the end of the world, but the Unveiling, otherwise called the Revelation, of Jesus Christ), as scholar Michael Gorman points out in his masterful work, Reading Revelation Responsibily: Uncivil Worship and Witness, Following the Lamb into the New Creation, whether it be predictive, preterist, poetic/theopoetic, political/theopolitical, or pastoral-prophetic, we must remember that Revelation was first of all written by a first-century Christian for first-century Christians.

In Revelation 2 & 3, John records a series of letters from the Lord Jesus “to the churches.” One important note, though each letter begins with a target church, following the pattern, “to the messenger of the church in {city},” each letter ends with an invitation to hear what the Spirit says “to the churches” (plural). It IS the intention that EACH letter is written to ALL the churches, despite being addressed to one.

I think it’s reasonable given this assumption to conclude that these letters could also be addressed to churches today. (Let me define church as “collection/gathering of Christians” rather than specifically administrative or organized hierarchy, or building of the same.)

With that assumption, we can seek to identify and use first-century literary devices and images to attempt to determine whether there is a message from the letters of Jesus “to the churches” in Revelation 2 & 3 that contain critiques on the first-century Christians in a way that could be analogous to Christians today. I think you will find that there are quite many.

It is my conviction that every local body of believers can be found somewhere among the 7 letters, and that every local body of believers also has individual believers within it who can also be found among the 7 letters. It would therefore be a gross over-simplification to say that any one letter applies globally to all living Christians today in any context. With that assumption in play, attempting to read and reflect on them all, in their own context, and evaluate both individual groups of Christians and individual Christians against them, becomes unavoidable.

Mr. Gorman, as well as many others, have identified the following structure of literary form for the letters from Jesus:

  • Address to “angel” (messenger? leader? prophet? guardian?) of each church
  • Depiction of the Lord, largely drawing on the vision of Jesus that John records in Chapter 1
  • Praise for what they are doing well (except Laodicea)
  • Critique for what they are not doing well (except Smyrna and Philadelphia)
  • A challenge to either continue or change and/or a warning
  • A promise for those who conquer/remain faithful
  • Invitation to hear what the Spirit says “to the churches”

One powerful observation a scholar made to me is that though the letters are written to a single church (addressee) and the churches collectively (ending invitation), the reward for those who conquer remains on individuals. We can’t collectively judge/stereotype “Christians” together in actions. Jesus seems to feel it is useful to address groups, but still evaluate hearts.

Without further delay, I’d draw your attention to Revelation 2–3 where we find 7 pastoral-prophetic letters to Christians from the Lord.

Revelation 2:1–7

  • Addressee: Ephesus
  • Depiction of the Lord: Holds 7 stars (churches/their messenger), walks among 7 lampstands (is among the churches)
  • Praise: Works, toil, patient endurance; no tolerance for evildoers; tested those who claim to be apostles (English spelling of the Greek word Apostolos, meaning a commissioned officer sent out for a purpose by the Lord) but are not and found them to be false. Bearing up for the sake of Christ’s Name and have not grown weary. Hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which Christ also hates
  • Critique: abandoned the love you had at first
  • Challenge/warning: Remember from what you have fallen; turn and do the works you did at first. If not, Jesus will come to you and remove your lampstand (light) from its place.
  • Promise for faithful: permission to eat from the tree of life in the garden of God (close, life-giving proximity to God’s personal presence, in an environment saturated with God’s life-giving presence)
  • “… listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches”
  • OBSERVATIONS: “With the love you had at first.” When you are newly a believer, you still somewhat identify with those in the world you just came out of. You have compassion on them because it is easy to identify with them. They are not the enemy, they are the lost. You turn to them with a self-giving, non-judgemental attitude that sees yourself as a recent participant who is simply thankful for the love of God. Out of His love, mercy, and generosity, you love the world, and attempt to stay away from participating in it to such a degree that calls your ultimate allegiance into question.

Revelation 2:8–11

  • Addressee: Smyrna
  • Depiction of the Lord: the first and the last, who was dead and came to life
  • Praise: Endured affliction and poverty, though rich (in perhaps other ways?); endured slander from false Jews whom Jesus calls “a synagogue of Satan”
  • Critique: none
  • Challenge/warning: Do not fear, though some will be imprisoned “for ten days” (temporary, it will pass). “Be faithful until death”
  • Promise for faithful: crown of life; will not be harmed by the second death
  • “… listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches”
    • Jesus doesn’t seem to critique those who suffer — imprisonment, possible loss of life — for/with him, at all
    • To the group that Jesus calls to be faithful “until death,” He depicts Himself as the one who was dead and came to life. And further, He promises the crown of life for those who are faithful, even if they die. Physical death is not the end, and avoiding physical suffering should not be what drives us, when juxtaposed against ultimate allegience to Christ and His Kingdom … His way of generous, self-giving living that stands at odds with the theopolitical structures in the world.

Revelation 2:12–17

  • Addressee: Pergamum
  • Depiction of the Lord: him who has the sharp two-edged sword (earlier depicted as being in his mouth; his tongue/word)
  • Praise: Despite proximity living near “Satan’s throne” (possible nod to the roman imperial cult of the Emperor known to be in the city), held fast to Jesus’ Name; did not deny faith in Jesus despite the murder “where Satan lives” (imperial cult center?) of Antipas, who Jesus calls “my witness, my faithful one
  • Critique: some among you hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel (see Numbers 22) = teaching others to eat food sacrificed to idols (participate in the local deity cults such that others stumble) and practice fornication (sexual immporality; Paul teaches Christian conviction should remain the body is for service to Christ and only sexually with your spouse); some hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans (their sin is debated by scholars, likely ritualistic or immoral sexual practice which may include “open relationships” of married people, possibly other)
  • Challenge/warning: Repent (turn) or Jesus will come to you soon and make war against THEM with sword of his mouth.
  • Promise for faithful: some of the hidden manna (it’s white “bread from heaven”/sky-bread; manna literally means “what is it?” - see Exodus 16 for context, also referenced in the Lord’s prayer “give us this day our daily bread” and a reference that Jesus said HE is the bread from heaven) and a white stone (with a new name that no one knows but you!)
  • “… listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches”
  • OBSERVATIONS: Note: Jesus’ war against “them” is not the entire church. It is those who are holding to these false teachings and being a stumbling block to them. He also doesn’t bring death of violence, but uses “the sword of His mouth.”

Revelation 2:18–28

  • Addressee: Thyatira
  • Depiction of the Lord: THE Son of God (human king of Israel, also the anti-Caesar who was also considered son of the gods), who has eyes like a flame of fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze
  • Praise: works: love, faith, service, patient endurance; last works greater than first
  • Critique: don’t tolerate “that woman Jezebel,” (name of the wife of Ahab, King of Israel, 1 Kings 16; possibly a wife of a ruling authority who is a Christian?) “who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and eat food sacrificed to idols” (participate in sexual immorality and the local deity cults, perhaps reference to worship of Aphrodite?) — she won’t repent, so I will “throw her on a bed” (give her up to her immoral way)
  • Challenge/warning: Those who are guilty: repent of (turn from) her doings; those who commit adultery with “Jezebel” (likely a specific unnamed person, could be generally the local deity cults) will be in great distress; those who are not guilty: “I do not lay on you any other burden,” … just hold on and stay faithful
  • Promise for faithful: “I will give authority over the nations to rule/shepherd them with an iron rod as when clay pots are shattered” (see Psalm 2:8–9; 49:19) even as I also received authority from my Father; the morning star
  • “… listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches”
  • OBSERVATIONS: As mentioned above, the Emperor was viewed as a son of the gods. Jesus juxtaposes Himself against this as THE Son of God. But there’s another issue at play here: He ends up inviting YOU the faithful into rule with Him as received from the Father. He’s the King who is really over Caesar as well, and invites you to ALSO be a Ruler at the same level. There’s some intense political movement here happening, in the mind of Rome, and some intense subversions of the dominant paradigms happening in the intention of Christ. Thyatira identified with their culture, and participated in its vices. Jesus offers them a different identity. Kingdom over culture.

Revelation 3:1–6

  • Addressee: Sardis
  • Depiction of the Lord: has the seven spirits of God (complete; all of God) and the seven stars (messengers of the churches INCLUDING THIS ONE - that will be reassuring in a few moments)
  • Praise: none up front
  • Critique: have a name/reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
  • Challenge/warning: “Wake up” (metaphor for sleeping among the dead meaning you are nearly indistinguishable from someone who is not a believer); strengthen what remains and is on the point of death; remember what you received (Jesus and His life/eternal life) and heard (the Gospel; Christ’s teaching); obey it and repent (turn). “If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.”
  • Promise for faithful: Those who have not “soiled their clothes” will walk with Jesus, dressed in white, for they are worthy; you will be clothed like them in white robes; Jesus will not blot your name out of the book of life; will confess your name before His Father and His angels
  • “… listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches”
    • Jesus offered no immediate praise for those who were nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the world … continue reading … but after His critique He added an exception for a select few
    • Coming “like a thief” is an idiom for at an unexpected hour. In the gospels, Jesus references coming like a thief “and one will be taken; another left” … “as in the days of Noah” … “during the flood.” Most scholars generally hold this is less about an escape-focused rapture (taking of the faithful into bliss) and more likely about judgement (taking of the sinful) since Christ’s allusion to the days of Noah and the Genesis flood related “the taking” to “those who were being judged.” All of that was unexpected, “like a thief.” Note the added context that His coming “like a thief” would here be the negative result of THEIR choice; it’s clearly not the desirable outcome. He’s coming no matter what. Their disposition and failure to “conquer”/be faithful will result in them being unaware of His appearing, and unwelcoming of what He takes and what He brings. Sad it is for a church or its people to dread the coming of the Lord.

Revelation 3:7–13

  • Addressee: Philadelphia
  • Depiction of the Lord: “the holy one” (God is Holy); “the true one” (reference to Exodus 34 self-revelation of Yahweh, full of אמת “truth”); “who has the key of David” (the rightful heir to the throne of Israel and David’s promised Messianic descendent); “who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens” (His decisions are binding and His judgements unavoidable)
  • Praise: despite little power, have kept Jesus’ word and not denied His Name; (seem to have endured persecution from false Jews (synagogue of Satan) who are here subject to a pronounced judgement: to learn Christ favors this church over them)
  • Critique: none
  • Challenge/warning: hold fast/stay faithful
  • Promise for faithful: will make you a pillar in the temple of my God - you will never go out of it; will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, and my own new name
  • “… listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches”
  • OBSERVATIONS: Jesus offers no critique to those who are enduring, staying faithful, and have little power/influence. His only admonition is to keep it up, which accompanies His promise.

Revelation 3:14–22

  • Addressee: Laodicea
  • Depiction of the Lord: “the Amen” (Greek rendering of Hebrew אמן amen “let it be so” or “truly” - an indication or verbal guarantee of validity or genuine wish for validity); “the faithful and true witness” (again Exodus 34 self-description of Yahweh, more explicit here with the added descriptor “witness”); “the origin of God’s creation” (See the gospel of John chapter 1, which depicts Jesus as the Creator Himself)
  • Praise: none (and oof, is this one a hard one)
  • Critique: “You are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit [vomit] you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
  • Challenge/warning: “Buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich” (trade what you think is valuable for what I attest is pure and actually valuable); “and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”
  • Promise for faithful: sit with Jesus on His throne just as He was faithful and sat with His Father on His throne
  • “… listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches”
    • Lukewarmness is not known to represent indifference in the ancient world, so it should NOT be construed that this is a spectrum between “for” Jesus and “against” Jesus, with an indifferent middle. Both hot and cold water had pleasing and useful purposes in the ancient world: hot brought warmth, comfort, clean-ness, while cold water was refreshing and replenishing. Lukewarm water was water that sat idle and was not pleasing or beneficial at all. Sitting, lukewarm water attracts flies, after all. Jesus goes on to relate this to their feeling of arrival and focus on the self and self-sufficiency. They are materialistic, inwardly minded, ungiving, ungenerous. This is the ONLY group about which Jesus has nothing good to say.
    • This is the roughest for me, because it casts Jesus in an intensely opposite position than earlier in the book. To Ephesus, Jesus is walking among the lampstands (churches) … He’s AMONG them. To Philadelphia, Jesus is the one who opens what no one can shut and who shuts doors no one can open. Contrast that picture of Jesus here, to the Laodiceans: Jesus is not among them, He’s locked outside, knocking on a door, trying to get in. Why? They must have shut Him out. Because they are rich, have prospered, and need nothing. They are self-centered, self-minded, and think themselves self-sufficient. And while He’s outside knocking, trying to get in, trying to fellowship with them, benefit them, and use them to benefit the Kingdom they claim to love, no one is answering His knocking. While He’d prefer to restore them, give them gold to make them actually rich, He’s about to give up (“spit you out of my mouth” - get their uselessness away from Him).


Jesus’ responses and feelings differs between all the churches, each receiving a message that reflects its attitudes and challenges. Functionally, these letters are report cards. But they are not private: All churches receive all letters. Not to air your dirty laundry, but to allow you to know that He’s serious and there are critical things we all need to learn from them.

One theme is found in all seven letters: whether to compromise.

  • Do you believe and live like you believe?
  • Does your conviction in Jesus as a King, a Lamb who was slain for those He loves drive you to give your all, up to and including the possibility of being slain, to help your fellow brother or sister or neighbor or friend or enemy or in the Name of Jesus to spread His truth?
  • Does your conviction that He is Lord of All result in your refusal to worship at the altars of convenience, materialism (money-Mammon), military power (war-Mars, in the name of national security), self-indulgence (sex-Aphrodite)?
    • You abstain from sexual immorality?
    • You abstain from participating in Ultimate Allegiance to/worship of another OTHER than Jesus, including your family, country/Kingdom, ethnicity, denomination, leadership, government, government-style, political orientation, tradition?
  • Do you follow Jesus in culture-participation, doing what He would do and refusing what He would refuse?
  • Is Jesus walking among you already, as He wishes? Or …
  • If you discover He’s been locked out, knocking at the door, would you swallow your pride, turn your heart to Him in repentance, and invite Him in to change you, your ways, your environment?
  • Is your faithful witness to Christ so odd to the world, that it’s uncomfortable for them and for you?
  • Key to all of this … does it result in authentic persecution? Like where prison or life is in question?

If the answer to everything above is YES, then I think Jesus would say KEEP IT UP. ENDURE TO THE END. I HAVE A REWARD FOR YOU IF YOU REMAIN FAITHFUL.

Or like those who are asleep among the dead, are you so accommodating to your surrounding culture, kingdom, government, friends, and the like that no one, including the risen Christ, can look at your life and tell the difference? If so, Jesus doesn’t judge you today, but judgement is coming. His message to you is simply REPENT. TURN. WAKE UP. COME OUT FROM AMONG THEM.

And interestingly enough, though my conviction is the modern Church should read Revelation as if they are the church from Laocidea (not that they are, but it’s the safest beginning assumption of all of them), Jesus still does not judge individuals based on where they are from, or what group they are in. Each heart is searched on its own accounts, and in its own culture. What is the Lord saying to YOU?

Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

Jay Baldwin is a follower of Jesus Christ residing in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and daughter. Jay is an Executive Director and Software Engineer (Web Ninja!), a self-proclaimed scriptural scholar, and a pilot. He's also an avid gamer, loves tennis, and has a black belt in Korean martial art Tang Soo Do.