Revelation 2-3 • Strong & Weak Churches

Introduction

These 7 churches represent at least 4 things:

    1. 7 literal, existing churches at the time of John’s writing;
    2. 7 types of churches or believers that can exist at any time in history;
    3. 7 historic, overlapping ages of the overall church on earth,
    4. and 7 types of churches that will exist in the Last Days.

The important common denominator for us is that they serve as an example of the strengths and weaknesses in both the church and believer’s walk from which we are to learn how to correct weakness and continue on the right path going forward in our walk with Christ.

Read 2:1-7

Q: What are the strong things and the weak things characterizing the church in Ephesus?

A: The strong things center around their good deeds, their toil for the Lord, their perseverance, their discernment as to who are the true apostles, and their opposition to “evil men” such as the Nicolaitans. (The Nicolaitans were followers of a man named Nicolas who advocated carnality and licentiousness under the guise of grace). Their weakness, however, was they have left their first love.

Q: How would you summarize the character of this type of church/believer?

A: (No single, right answer — encourage discussion.) They’re faithful in carrying out God’s work, but it is no longer from the heart.

Application: What does it mean to leave one’s first love? Is it fervor and intensity for Christ, or is it something else? If it is fervor and intensity, how does one regain that? What experiences have you had in this area?

Read 2:8-11

Q: What are the strong things and the weak things characterizing the church in Smyrna?

A: They are obviously in opposition to those who were practicing Satanic worship who also include Jewish rituals in the process. Their opposition was such that they were about to suffer for it, even to the point that some would die. This will prove a test for them, but it will end after a period of time. There are no weaknesses pointed out in Smyrna.

Q: How would you summarize the character of this type of church/believer?

A: (No single, right answer — encourage discussion.) They’re faithful even while being persecuted, to the point of death.

Application: What does persecution for your faith do to your faith? What awaits those who suffer for Jesus? What is the strange instruction in the beginning words of verse 10 that can encourage us? (Do not fear….)

Read 2:12-17

Q: What are the strong things and the weak things characterizing the church in Pergamum?

A: Notice that this is the second mention of Satan’s name. Their strengths include remaining faithful to Jesus, at least in name, and not denying Him even when one of their own was being martyred. But there has been compromise. The teaching of Balaam means there are some advocating liberalism to the point of sin; that is, tempting others to sin by eating meat sacrificed to animals and participating in temple rites, probably in the name of “grace” or “forgiveness.”

The teaching of Balaam to Balak means to send some of the women priestesses into the Israelite camp to tempt the men into worship idols. Balaam believed falsely that God would then destroy the Israelites, seeing that he himself could not pronounce a curse of them.

Q: How would you summarize the character of this type of church/believer?

A: (No single, right answer — encourage discussion.) They’re faithful in many things but have still allowed false teaching to enter the church to such a degree that it needs to be cleansed.

Application: What are some things Christians do today that tempt other Christians to sin?

Read 2:18-29

Q: What are the strong things and the weak things characterizing the church in Thyatira?

A: Their strengths include good deeds, love, faith, service and perseverance. Their weakness, however, is that some are following a woman prophetess who is encouraging them to become involved in immorality. Probably a small cult. Obviously, this woman was a member of the church and may still be in the church at the time of this writing.

Q: How would you summarize the character of this type of church/believer?

A: (No single, right answer — encourage discussion.) Wherein Pergamum was faithful in much but allowed false teaching to enter and take root in the church, Thyatira — even through growing of late — has allowed sensuality to enter and take root within a smaller sub-group within the church.

Application: Can you find a common theme concerning (1) the sins involved, and (2) who is behind them? (The common theme of sin is sexual immorality and idolatry; the one behind them is Satan.) Have you ever noted a smaller group within the church that begins to act/live differently? What did/should you do?

Read 3:1-6

Q: What are the strong things and the weak things characterizing the church in Sardis?

A: This is a pathetic condition because it states that only a few Christians have not become involved in immorality; that they are spiritually asleep. However, there yet remains a faithful remnant.

Q: How would you summarize the character of this type of church/believer?

A: (No single, right answer — encourage discussion.) They’re mostly a church in name only, spiritually asleep except for a small remnant. Their overall work for the kingdom is, as yet, incomplete and needs to be finished.

Application: What is the common theme about what the Christians in these churches ought to do to change their ways? (Repent.)

Read 3:7-13

Q: What are the strong things and the weak things characterizing the church in Philadelphia?

A: In contrast to Sardis, Philadelphia appears to have its spiritual act together. Twice the phrase is used, “Because you have kept My word….” Again, Satan is seen as the Tempter.

Q: How would you summarize the character of this type of church/believer?

A: (No single, right answer—encourage discussion.) Their faithfulness and steadfastness in God’s Word is providing an opportunity to reap a spiritual harvest.

Application: What must the church do to stand strong? Name three things.

Read 3:14-22

Q: What are the strong things and the weak things characterizing the church in Laodicea?

A: There does not appear to be any strong things noted here, and the weakness is glaring. This is a new temptation not seen in other letters. It is the spiritual complacency of laziness created by materialism.

Q: How would you summarize the character of this type of church/believer?

A: (No single, right answer—encourage discussion.) They are spiritually deceived; blind and not knowing that they’re blind.

Application: Why does materialism create spiritual complacency and a Christian that is “lukewarm”? What must the Laodiceans do to change this situation?

Overall Application

Q: Which of the 7 churches do you think most represents the church-at-large today and why?

A: (Open for discussion.)

Q: Which of the 7 churches do you think most represents the local church you’re attending today and why? Is there some action you should take?

A: (Open for discussion.)

Q: Which of the 7 churches best represents your current walk with Christ and why? Does this provide a course of action you should take?

A: (Open for discussion.)

Q: When it comes to strengths within a church, what are some of the characteristics named?

A: Deeds (good deeds), toil, perseverance, endurance, not growing weary; not tolerating evil people and false apostles; knowing their own spiritual riches; not denying the name of Jesus and holding fast to it; not being involved in immorality, in cults, in idolatry; practicing love, faith and service with perseverance; keeping God’s Word; surviving tests and temptations by Satan, to name a few.

Q: When it comes to weaknesses within the church, what are some of the characteristics named?

A: The most common one is giving in to immorality of various sorts, then idolatry, then materialism. Implicit within these is also not persevering in the faith, not keeping God’s Word, and moral and spiritual laxity.

Q: What is the one word or phrase that occurs at the end of each letter as a form of instruction and encouragement to the church?

A: “He who overcomes….”

Application: What is the meaning of “to overcome,” and how does one apply it today? What things does the Christian need to overcome today?

Point: Why did we not focus on the promises for each church identified by “...he who has an ear, let him hear...”? These promises are fulfilled when we adhere to the good characteristics of all the churches, when we persevere in the faith, keep God’ Word, and completely eliminate moral and spiritual laxity. They don’t come simply because we acknowledge them; they come as the result of living faithfully.