If there is no mention of the word “repent” in the epistles of John, he certainly makes up for it in the Book of Revelation where it is mentioned 12 times! The book begins with these words, Rev 1:1 “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” It expresses a description of the revelation of the future that God gave to Jesus to share with John the apostle while he was exiled on the Island of Patmos. In later chapters John shares the messages with the angels of 7 churches so that the peoples in those places might take note and repent.
Revelation 2:4-5. The first reference to the word “repent” [NOTE 1] comes in the message given to the angel of the church in Ephesus to share with the believers in that church. Rev 2:4 “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” In this case what was it that the church in Ephesus needed to repent of? After an affirmation of the church for some good qualities John records the Lord’s criticism of them that they had lost their first love. They had fallen from where they had been before in their relationship with God. They were challenged to repent of their attitudes and behaviour and to produce the works they had performed before they fell.
Revelation 2:14-16. The second reference to “repent” is in the message to the church in Pergamum, Rev 2:16 “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.” Rev 2:14 “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” In Israelite history Balaam had seduced the Israelites to forgo their God-given laws and to become like the other nations. That meant becoming involved in forbidden activities such as eating food sacrificed to other deities and engaging in sexual immorality. Obviously, many in Pergamum had fallen to those sorts of temptations. They also failed to remove the false teachers who had influenced the church for evil.
Revelation 2:20-22. The third reference was in the message to the church in Thyatira. Rev 2:20 “But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.” It seems that there was a false teacher in the church who had the attributes of Queen Jezebel in the time of King Ahab. She obviously encouraged many in the church to eat food sacrificed to idols and to engage in sexual immorality. However in the mercy and providence of God He allowed her time to repent and to turn away from the evil she was promulgating. Judgment was inevitable, Rev 2:22 “Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works.” She was guilty and would bear punishment for what she had done and also for failing to take notice of God given opportunities for her to repent. Likewise those whom she led astray would also be punished but there was still time for them to repent. That involved changing their minds about her false teaching and sinful behaviour and confessing them as evil in the sight of God. It meant also that they had to confess their own sin in repentance and seek the Lord’s forgiveness.
Revelation 3:1-6. In this reference to the church in Sardis they are accused of being dead and asleep. Rev 3:1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you”. The Lord is not influenced by reputations. He deals in realities. The church was reputed to be a live church but He saw it as being spiritually dead. He warned them that they needed to wake up and build on the good that still remained in the church.
What was it that drew such criticism from the Lord? The works they had begun, they had failed to complete. There was a lack of commitment in the church and they were resting on their laurels. The way forward for the church was to repent of their failures and to live in accordance with the teaching they had received. If they did so they would join the few who had remained faithful in the church, described here as those “who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” 3:4. For those who did repent and turn back to Him to live victorious lives He promised eternal security, 5 “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” Repentance was the key to forgiveness for the past and to guarantee blessing in the future.
Revelation 3:14-22. The message to the church in Laodicea didn’t mince words. It was a challenge to them to turn back to God, yet it had words of encouragement in it as well. God saw them as lukewarm in their works, nauseous to Him and liable to be spat out, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Rev 3:15-16.
They also saw themselves as being self-sufficient and not needing to rely on their God. He saw them differently, “You are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” If they wanted to be rich then they needed to come to Him in repentance to receive the gold He offered. If they wanted to appear to be well clothed, they needed to clothe themselves with the garments He alone could provide, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen.” 3:18. [NOTE 2]. For their blindness, they needed to receive the salve from Him that alone could bring them sight, “salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” 3:18.
Repentance on their part would be a response to the love of their God, as He reminds them, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” Rev 3:19. He was motivated to help them do so. They just needed to open their lives to His presence and He would have fellowship with them, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Rev 3:20. Not only that but their repentance and openness to God will enable them to have victories where once there had been defeats, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” Rev 3:21.
In Revelation 9:20- 21 the picture is of a coming judgment. People had not repented of their various sins and judgment would fall on them. But it is interesting to see what sins they needed to repent of, “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” It is an extensive list and mentions the breaking of many of the commandments given to them in the Decalogue, the 10 Commandments. They hadn’t repented of what they had done. Nor had they given up the worship of various types of idols. Nor had they repented of their sins of murder, involvement in sorcery and in sexual immorality. They could and should have repented of all these things. They chose not to. For that they were accountable to God.
Revelation 16:9-11. The final reference to repentance comes in Rev 16:9-11 where the Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath are poured out. In this passage, we read of people’s rebellion against God.
That rebellion is seen in the following. They “bore the mark of the beast and worshipped its image.” 16:2. They had “shed the blood of saints and prophets”. 16:6. They had cursed the name of God, “cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.” They had “cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.” No repentance means no forgiveness!
It is amazing to realise as we look at all these verses in the book of Revelation, that humans find it so difficult to recognise their sinfulness and to repent of it.
It reminds us of the poignant words in Rom 10:21 where God expresses His concern even for His own people, “But of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.’” Disobedient and contrary people always need to repent. Even now!
Or we might think of the lament of Jesus as He spoke about Jerusalem because of their rejection of Him as their Messiah. Mat 23:37 and Luke 13:34, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” [NOTE 3]
Or how deeply Jesus was moved to tears as He drew near to Jerusalem and knew what the future entailed for the city because of the rejection of Him by its people, “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:42-44. How sad that so many inhabitants of Jerusalem would never have gotten around to repenting of their rejection of their Messiah! How many today have not yet repented of sin and turned in faith to God for His forgiveness!
——————————————————————————————————————————— [NOTE 1] As we have seen in previous articles, the word for “repent” is [metanoéō; μετανοέω] meaning to change the mind and also to change one’s behaviour. One definition for repentance might be “a change of mind accompanied by a change in behaviour.” It involves turning away from sin and turning to God.
[NOTE 2] There is here almost an echo of the words in Isa 61:10, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
[NOTE 3] The Authorised Version puts it so starkly, “and ye would not!”
Blog No.229. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Wednesday 16th August 2017