Christ Speaks to the Congregations
“These are the things that he says who holds the seven stars in his right hand.”—REVELATION 2:1.
1, 2. Why should we be interested in what Christ said to seven congregations in Asia Minor?
JEHOVAH’S only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, is the Head of the Christian congregation. To keep the congregation of his anointed followers unblemished, Christ exercises his headship by commending and correcting them. (Ephesians 5:21-27) There are examples of this in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, where we find Jesus’ powerful and loving messages directed to seven congregations in Asia Minor.
2 Before he heard Jesus’ words to the seven congregations, the apostle John was granted a vision of “the Lord’s day.” (Revelation 1:10) That “day” began when the Messianic Kingdom was established in 1914. What Christ said to the congregations is therefore vitally important in these last days. His encouragement and counsel help us to deal with these critical times.—2 Timothy 3:1-5.
3. What are the figurative meanings of the “stars,” “angels,” and “golden lampstands” that the apostle John beheld?
3 John beheld the glorified Jesus Christ, who “holds the seven stars in his right hand” and who “walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands,” or congregations. The “stars” are “the angels of the seven congregations.” (Revelation 1:20; 2:1) Stars sometimes symbolize angelic spirit creatures, but Christ would not use a man to record messages for spirit creatures. Hence, these “stars” logically denote spirit-anointed overseers, or bodies of elders. The term “angels” relates to their role as messengers. Because God’s organization has grown, “the faithful steward” has also appointed qualified men of Jesus’ “other sheep” as overseers.—Luke 12:42-44; John 10:16.
4. How do elders benefit from paying attention to what Christ says to the congregations?
4 The “stars” are in Jesus’ right hand—within his power, control, favor, and protection. Therefore, they are accountable to him. By heeding his words to each of the seven congregations, present-day elders see how they can handle similar situations. Of course, all Christians need to listen to God’s Son. (Mark 9:7) So, what can we learn by paying attention as Christ speaks to the congregations?
To the Angel in Ephesus
5. What kind of city was Ephesus?
5 Jesus commended and reproved the congregation in Ephesus. (Read Revelation 2:1-7.) The massive temple of the goddess Artemis stood in this wealthy commercial and religious center on the west coast of Asia Minor. Although Ephesus was filled with immorality, false religion, and the practice of magic, God blessed the ministry of the apostle Paul and others in that city.—Acts, chapter 19.
6. How are loyal Christians today like those in ancient Ephesus?
6 Christ commended the congregation in Ephesus, saying: “I know your deeds, and your labor and endurance, and that you cannot bear bad men, and that you put those to the test who say they are apostles, but they are not, and you found them liars.” Today, congregations of Jesus’ true followers have a similar record of good deeds, hard work, and endurance. They do not put up with false brothers who want to be viewed as apostles. (2 Corinthians 11:13, 26) Like the Ephesians, loyal Christians today “cannot bear bad men.” To maintain the purity of Jehovah’s worship and to protect the congregation, therefore, they do not extend the hand of fellowship to unrepentant apostates.—Galatians 2:4, 5; 2 John 8-11.
7, 8. What serious problem existed in the congregation in Ephesus, and how might we deal with a similar situation?
7 Yet, Christians in Ephesus had a serious problem. “I hold this against you,” said Jesus, “that you have left the love you had at first.” Members of the congregation needed to rekindle their first love for Jehovah. (Mark 12:28-30; Ephesians 2:4; 5:1, 2) We ourselves must guard against losing our first love for God. (3 John 3) But what if such things as a desire for material riches or the pursuit of pleasure are becoming paramount in our lives? (1 Timothy 4:8; 6:9, 10) Then we should fervently pray for divine help to replace such inclinations with deep-seated love for Jehovah and gratitude for all that he and his Son have done for us.—1 John 4:10, 16.
8 Christ urged the Ephesians: “Remember from what you have fallen, and repent and do the former deeds.” What if they did not do this? “If you do not,” said Jesus, “I am coming to you, and I will remove your lampstand from its place.” If all the sheep were to lose their first love, the “lampstand,” or congregation, would no longer exist. As zealous Christians, may we therefore work hard to keep the congregation shining spiritually.—Matthew 5:14-16.
9. How should sectarianism be viewed?
9 To their credit, the Ephesians hated “the deeds of the sect of Nicolaus.” Aside from what is said in Revelation, nothing definite is known about the origin, teachings, and practices of this sect. Since Jesus condemned the following of men, however, we need to keep on hating sectarianism, as did the Christians in Ephesus.—Matthew 23:10.
10. What will be the experience of those who heed what the spirit says?
10 “Let the one who has an ear hear what the spirit says to the congregations,” said Christ. When on earth, Jesus spoke under the influence of God’s spirit. (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:16-21) So we should pay attention to what God now says through him by holy spirit. Under the spirit’s direction, Jesus promised: “To him that conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” For anointed ones, who heed what the spirit says, this means immortality in the heavenly “paradise of God,” or Jehovah’s very presence. The “great crowd,” who also listen to what the spirit says, will enjoy an earthly paradise where they will drink from “a river of water of life” and will find healing from “the leaves of the trees” alongside it.—Revelation 7:9; 22:1, 2; Luke 23:43.
11. How may we be able to promote love for Jehovah?
11 The Ephesians had lost their first love, but what if a similar situation is developing in a congregation today? Let us individually promote love for Jehovah by talking about his loving ways. We can express our gratitude for the love God showed in providing the ransom by means of his dear Son. (John 3:16; Romans 5:8) When appropriate, we can mention God’s love in comments and in program parts at meetings. We can show our own love for Jehovah by praising his name in the Christian ministry. (Psalm 145:10-13) Yes, our words and actions may do much to rekindle or strengthen a congregation’s first love.
To the Angel in Smyrna
12. What does history reveal regarding Smyrna and religious practices there?
12 The congregation in Smyrna was commended by Christ, “‘the First and the Last,’ who became dead and came to life again” by a resurrection. (Read Revelation 2:8-11.) Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey) was built on the west coast of Asia Minor. Greeks settled the city, but the Lydians destroyed it in about 580 B.C.E. Successors of Alexander the Great rebuilt Smyrna on a new site. It became part of the Roman province of Asia and was a thriving commercial center noted for fine public buildings. Its temple of Tiberius Caesar made it a center of emperor worship. Worshipers had to burn a pinch of incense and say “Caesar is Lord.” Christians could not comply because to them “Jesus is Lord.” Hence, they suffered tribulation.—Romans 10:9.
13. Although poor materially, in what sense were Christians in Smyrna rich?
13 Besides tribulation, Christians in Smyrna endured poverty, possibly suffering economic sanctions because they would not engage in emperor worship. Jehovah’s present-day servants are not immune from similar trials. (Revelation 13:16, 17) Though materially poor, those who are like Christians in Smyrna are spiritually rich, and that is what really matters!—Proverbs 10:22; 3 John 2.
14, 15. What comfort can anointed ones draw from Revelation 2:10?
14 Most Jews in Smyrna were “a synagogue of Satan” because they held to unscriptural traditions, rejected God’s Son, and blasphemed his spirit-begotten followers. (Romans 2:28, 29) But what comfort anointed ones can draw from Christ’s next words! He says: “Do not be afraid of the things you are about to suffer. Look! The Devil will keep on throwing some of you into prison that you may be fully put to the test, and that you may have tribulation ten days. Prove yourself faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life.”—Revelation 2:10.
15 Jesus was not afraid to die for upholding Jehovah’s sovereignty. (Philippians 2:5-8) Although Satan is now waging war upon the anointed remnant, they do not fear the things they must suffer as a group—tribulation, imprisonment, or violent death. (Revelation 12:17) They will be world conquerors. And instead of a fading garland of flowers worn as a crown by victors in the pagan games, Christ promises resurrected anointed ones “the crown of life” as immortal creatures in heaven. What a priceless gift!
16. If we are associated with a congregation like the one in ancient Smyrna, on what issue should our attention be focused?
16 What if we, whether our hope is heavenly or earthly, are associated with a congregation like the one in ancient Smyrna? Then let us help fellow believers to focus on the main reason why God permits persecution—the issue of universal sovereignty. Every integrity-keeping Witness of Jehovah proves Satan to be a liar and demonstrates that even a persecuted human can be an unwavering advocate of God’s right to rule as Universal Sovereign. (Proverbs 27:11) Let us encourage other Christians to endure persecution and, as a result, have the continual “privilege of fearlessly rendering sacred service to [Jehovah] with loyalty and righteousness before him all our days”—even forever.—Luke 1:68, 69, 74, 75.
To the Angel of Pergamum
17, 18. Pergamum was a center of what kind of worship, and what could result from refusal to participate in such idolatry?
17 Both commendation and correction were given to the congregation in Pergamum. (Read Revelation 2:12-17.) Situated about 50 miles [80 km] north of Smyrna, Pergamum was a city steeped in pagan religion. Chaldean magi (astrologers) seem to have fled there from Babylon. Sick people flocked to Pergamum’s renowned temple of Asclepius, the false god of healing and medicine. Pergamum, with its temple devoted to the worship of Caesar Augustus, has been called “the chief centre of the imperial cult under the early empire.”—Encyclopædia Britannica, 1959, Volume 17, page 507.
18 In Pergamum there was an altar dedicated to Zeus. The city was also a seat of Devil-inspired deification of men. No wonder the congregation there was said to be dwelling where “the throne of Satan” was! Refusing to worship the emperor could result in death for an upholder of Jehovah’s sovereignty. The world is still lying in the Devil’s power, and national symbols are now being idolized. (1 John 5:19) From the first century to the present day, many faithful Christians have been martyred, like the one Christ called “Antipas, my witness, the faithful one, who was killed by your side.” Jehovah God and Jesus Christ certainly remember such loyal servants.—1 John 5:21.
19. What did Balaam do, and against what must all Christians be on guard?
19 Christ also spoke of “the teaching of Balaam.” Greedy for material gain, the false prophet Balaam tried to curse Israel. When God turned his curse into a blessing, Balaam worked with Moabite King Balak and lured many Israelites into idolatry and sexual immorality. Christian elders need to be as firm for righteousness as was Phinehas, who acted against the workings of Balaam. (Numbers 22:1–25:15; 2 Peter 2:15, 16; Jude 11) In fact, all Christians must be on guard against idolatry and the infiltration of sexual immorality into the congregation.—Jude 3, 4.
20. If any Christian is beginning to entertain apostate views, what should he do?
20 The congregation in Pergamum was in great peril because it allowed in its midst “those holding fast the teaching of the sect of Nicolaus.” Christ told the congregation: “Repent. If you do not, I am coming to you quickly, and I will war with them with the long sword of my mouth.” Sectarians want to do Christians spiritual harm, and those bent on promoting divisions and sects will not inherit God’s Kingdom. (Romans 16:17, 18; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Galatians 5:19-21) If any Christian is beginning to entertain apostate views and wants to spread them, he ought to take a warning from Christ! To save himself from disaster, he should repent and seek the spiritual assistance of the elders in the congregation. (James 5:13-18) Prompt action is vital, for Jesus is coming quickly to execute judgment.
21, 22. Who partake of “the hidden manna,” and what does it symbolize?
21 Faithful anointed Christians and their loyal companions need not fear the coming judgment. Blessings await all who heed Jesus’ counsel given by direction of God’s holy spirit. For instance, world-conquering anointed ones will be invited to eat some of “the hidden manna” and will be given “a white pebble” bearing “a new name.”
22 God provided manna to sustain the Israelites during their 40-year trek through the wilderness. Some of that “bread” was kept in a golden jar inside the ark of the covenant and thus was hidden in the tabernacle’s Most Holy, where a miraculous light symbolized Jehovah’s presence. (Exodus 16:14, 15, 23, 26, 33; 26:34; Hebrews 9:3, 4) No one was permitted to eat that hidden manna. At their resurrection, though, Jesus’ anointed followers put on immortality, symbolized by eating “the hidden manna.”—1 Corinthians 15:53-57.
23. Of what significance are the “white pebble” and the “new name”?
23 A black pebble brought condemnation in Roman courts, whereas a white one meant acquittal. Jesus’ giving “a white pebble” to conquering anointed Christians indicates that he adjudges them innocent, pure, and clean. Since the Romans also used pebbles to gain entry to important events, the “white pebble” may denote the anointed one’s being admitted to a place in heaven at the marriage of the Lamb. (Revelation 19:7-9) The “new name” evidently signifies the privilege of being united with Jesus as joint-heirs in the heavenly Kingdom. How all of this encourages anointed ones as well as their associates in Jehovah’s service, who hope to live on a paradise earth!
24. What position should we take with respect to apostasy?
24 It is wise to remember that the Pergamum congregation was endangered by apostates. If a similar situation threatens the spiritual welfare of the congregation with which we are associated, let us completely reject apostasy and keep on walking in the truth. (John 8:32, 44; 3 John 4) Since false teachers or individuals leaning toward apostasy can corrupt an entire congregation, we must maintain a firm stand against apostasy, never allowing wicked persuasion to hinder us from obeying the truth.—Galatians 5:7-12; 2 John 8-11.
25. Christ’s messages to what congregations will be discussed in the next article?
25 What thought-provoking words of commendation and counsel the glorified Jesus Christ spoke to the three of the seven congregations in Asia Minor that we have considered! As directed by holy spirit, however, he also has much to say to the four remaining congregations. These messages, directed to Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, will be discussed in the next article.
How Would You Respond?
• Why should we pay attention to what Christ says to the congregations?
• How might we help to rekindle a congregation’s first love?
• Why can it be said that the materially poor Christians in ancient Smyrna really were rich?
• Reflecting on the situation in the congregation in Pergamum, how should we view apostate thinking?
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The “great crowd” will enjoy an earthly paradise
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Persecuted Christians are world conquerors