Believers need to look at their spiritual compass regularly. In seasons of dullness, when the landscape of life looks the same day after day, orienting ourselves toward God reminds us that the grind has a bigger purpose. In seasons of danger, orienting ourselves toward God fortifies us to endure challenges to our faith. John’s audience in Revelation faced both seasons of danger and seasons of deception. John writes that the one who is oriented toward God is protected from Satan’s lies and assured of rule with Christ in the age to come.
Spiritual Ears in Every Church
In the letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3, Jesus describes the role of being oriented toward God. The letters differ in length and use of metaphors and literary features, but they all display a general introduction-body-conclusion framework. The repeated phrase “anyone who has ears to hear” calls the recipients of the letters to orient themselves toward God. Jesus’s formulaic expression effectively establishes a concrete role he expects believers to embrace so they might fulfill his instructions. In the broader discourse of Revelation, those oriented toward God have rejected the false teaching propagated by the beast, the false prophet, and Satan (see Revelation 13).
Jesus’s statements after the letters to the seven churches echo his point in the parable of the soils (Matt 13:1–15; Mark 4:1–12; Luke 8:4–10). There, Jesus cites Isa 6:9–10 to explain that God has enabled those who hear and accept the kingdom’s message while others who hear the same message and reject it have been hardened by him. Regardless of the specific imagery Jesus uses to introduce himself at the beginning of each letter or the various metaphors and Old Testament themes Jesus employs in the body of the letters, Jesus concludes his address to each church by identifying the role of the recipient. Those in the recipient’s role are called to heed the message and respond faithfully. They are to embrace the role of being oriented toward God.
Protection of the Mind
In Revelation 12–13, John records his visions of the spiritual forces that oppose God and his people on earth. The dragon, the beast from the sea, and the beast from the earth described in Revelation 13 employ their delegated authority against believers, taking some captive and killing others (Rev 13:10). They arrange the structures of the world to intimidate and coerce humanity to worship them, establishing an earthly kingdom. Everything about the nature and activity of the dragon, the beast from the sea, and the beast from the earth in Revelation 13 mimics and mocks the triune God of heaven and his rule over the cosmos. Satan and his forces establish a system for the members of their kingdom—captive by fear and force—to receive a branding mark visible on the right hand or forehead (Rev 13:16–17). This mark, the symbol of power for the beast and Satan’s earthly kingdom, ironically portrays weakness because it identifies the deceived and beguiled with Satan and his impending doom. And in Rev 13:18, John urges “the one who has understanding,” the one oriented toward God, to resist Satan’s lies.
In the letters to the churches in Revelation 2–3, “ears” signify that one’s faculties are sensitive to God. Ears resemble spiritual discernment that will be carried out by one’s entire body. The same idea is communicated via “mind” in Rev 13:18 (see also Rev 17:9). The one oriented toward God heeds Jesus’s instructions in Revelation 2–3 and realizes Satan’s limited capacity in Revelation 13. The actor in this role is oriented toward God, responding faithfully to God’s revelation about his activity and the finite domain he has entrusted to Satan.
Living in Light of Eternity
And what does John envision for those who are oriented toward God, who walk in spiritual wisdom and resist the beast’s efforts to expand Satan’s kingdom? In Rev 20:6a, John describes the blessedness of “the one who shares in the first resurrection.” John notes that this holy and blessed role of sharing in the first resurrection is consistent with a life of spiritual fidelity. The role of sharing in the first resurrection befits those who have resisted the mark of the beast and maintained their witness of Christ even unto death (Rev 20:4). Those who enjoy a share in the first resurrection offer spiritual service to God and reign with Christ (Rev 20:6b). The concept of participation in resurrection life rests upon the spatial dualism surfacing throughout Revelation. The believer’s share in eternal life anticipates the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven in Revelation 21. In that domain, every creature is oriented toward God and the Lamb, the source of light itself (Rev 21:22–23).
So where are you oriented? Is your compass fixed on the due north of New Jerusalem and life with God and the Lamb? Do your ears listen to what Jesus says to the churches with a mind trained towards sensitivity toward God? Or do you wander in seasons of dullness, danger, or deceit? Orient your ears and minds toward Christ as you wait to rule with him in the coming age!
¹ This is the third entry in a series of FTC blog posts noting how John uses a particular grammatical form, the articular substantival participle, for specific words in Revelation that resemble a playwright’s roles in a script.
² ἔχω in Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 2:29; 3:6, 3:13, 22; 13:18; 17:9; and 20:6.
³ Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 2:29; 3:6, 3:13, 22.
⁴ Brian J. Tabb writes, “Those with ‘an ear’ rightly grasp that the Spirit of God and the exalted Christ address the churches in and through this book of prophecy. They also test the spritis and resists the siren song of the false prophet and its emissaries such as Balaam and Jezebel (2:14, 20; 16:13-14)” (All Things New: Revelation As Canonical Capstone, NSBT 48 [Downers Grove: IVP Academic], 223-24).
⁵ G.K. Beale suggests that the parallels between the conclusion of the seven letters and the parable of the soils imply a mixed congregation in the churches with the result that each hearer’s spiritual state will be made public by how they respond to Jesus’s message (The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999], 234). Yet, as George Beasely-Murray states, Jesus has in view the one who reacts faithfully, overcomes, and receives God’s blessing (“Revelation,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. [Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994], 1428).
⁶ Robert Mounce notes the cognitive labor believers must expend in order to orient themselves toward God in the midst of spiritual battle, stating “What is crucial at this point is to recognize the true nature of the struggle. While the Lamb was victorious on the cross, the full and public acknowledgment of tha victory awaits a final moment. Believers live in the already/not yet tension of a battle won but no quite over” (The Book of Revelation, rev ed. NICNT [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997], 263).
⁷ Ian Paul writes, “Spatial references function as an extended metaphor for humanity’s spiritual state, and the descriptions of the heavenly realm suggest a spiritual, prophetic perspective on the mundane realities of the earthly realm. The consummation of John’s vision report is the coming of the New Jerusalem down from heaven to earth, where the two realities finally converge” (“Introduction to the Book of Revelation” in The Cambridge Companion to Apocalyptic Literaure, ed. Colin McAllister [Cambride: Cambridge University Press, 2020], 43).