Series Theme: Church Kaleidoscope Meditations
(Revelation 2 & 3)
The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:
Lord of the Church Introduction
Rev 1:10,11 On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches
Why? God's guidance comes in many different forms. I have recently, by accident I would have said, found myself reading a book in which a pastor tells his story and it involved the book of Revelation. Just a couple of words he said grabbed me and nudged me back to the familiar first three chapters of Revelation, and so here I am with a heart hooked and wondering what is coming. It had better start with the feel that I have. I have studied this book again and again over the years and marvelled at it, but I fear sometimes that we analyze in such a measure that we fail to grab a sense of the reality of what was going on.
As I glimpsed into chapters 2 and 3 this morning it struck me what a kaleidoscope of experiences and challenges with find here. No two churches are the same for the Church comprises people and people all have their own life experiences and experiences of God, and so every local church, although it may have similarities to many others, will have their own struggles, and that I believe is what we will see here, that is the sense I have here. We will first of all go through the seven churches individually in each study, and then will conclude with 3 recap studies; first focusing on how Christ portrays himself, second on different ways the struggles against the enemy are seen, and finally on the possibilities that are offered to overcomers of those struggles. That's the plan!
To Whom: After the prologue of verses 1 to 3 in chapter 1, we see straight away the direction of what is about to come: “ John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia:” (v.4a) The ‘Asia' here was just one province in Asia Minor. If you have maps in the back of your Bible, possibly showing Paul's journeys, you should see it there, together with the seven cities that are soon to be mentioned: “I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea .” (v.10,11)
The Greeting: As with many such letters in the New Testament, he starts his letter to them with, “Grace and peace to you.” i.e. may God's provision be yours and may it bring you peace. He speaks as a messenger from God: “from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne.” (v.4b) i.e. God who is eternal, God who is Spirit, God who rules on high. But this blessing to them also comes, “from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (v.5a) i.e. the Son who has faithfully testified to the Father in his ministry on earth, who was raised from the dead and who now rules over the earth (see Psa 110:1,2 & 1 Cor 15:25). John comes with all the authority of the Godhead.
John's Testimony: Pastor John seeks to draw alongside those to whom he is about to write. We've just said he's come bringing the blessing of the Godhead and he comes with the authority of God, but that authority also comes because of what has happened to him and what is happening to him: “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.” (v.9a) He stands with them, he is a brother in Christ and he has shared in the suffering that believers so often experience, a suffering that requires endurance to ‘just hang on in there'. But there is more. He, “was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (v.9b) Patmos was a prison island and he is there because, as a faithful pastor, he was a thorn in the side of the authorities who banned him there. I have heard it said from the underground church in China, that a qualification for being a pastor there is, have you been in prison?
From Whom: After the instruction we saw in verses 10 and 11, he explains to his readers how this message came that he will shortly be passing on. In the vision he heard the voice speaking to him, turned around and, “saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man,” (v.12,13) a term used by Jesus and seen in Dan 7:13 referring to the one coming from heaven, the Messiah. He appears, not as the one John had known on earth but as a priestly figure (v.13) of great wisdom (v.14a) but penetrating eyes (v.14b). He also appears as one who has been through the testing and trying of the furnace of life and yet who now speaks with immense power and authority (v.15).
He holds seven stars in his right hand (the hand of authority), he speaks with cutting authority and his face shines with the glory of God (v.16). His appearance petrifies John, because he is so unlike the one he knew before, so that he just falls before him lifeless (v.17a). The Son reassures him (v.17b) and John declares, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (v.17,18) The description is of eternal divinity in human form, a form that had died but had been raised. He explains that the seven stars are the angels or leaders (unclear which) and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
And So? So we have seen how John came to be writing: in exile on Patmos he gets this vision and in it he hears a voice and sees this figure who has to be Jesus and he is shown to be the one who has all authority over the seven churches amongst whom he walks. One might wonder why these seven churches and no other? Two main reasons are usually given. First, it may be that these were seven churches over which John had apostolic authority. It is thought he was an elder in Ephesus and perhaps it is significant that Ephesus is the first one mentioned. Second the number seven occurs many times in the book and seven is considered (for a variety of reasons) to be the perfect number that signifies completeness.
Thus, it is reasoned, these encouragements, exhortations and challenges to these seven churches might be considered to be God's word to the whole church. It is likely that these words would get spread over the whole area and so any church might read what was said to these seven and wonder how they stood before the all-seeing eyes and challenging voice of the ascended Son of God, the head of the Church, the Lord of all the earth. In that sense these words should be a challenge to the whole Church.
However, from our point of view, the sense that I have is that as we meditate on what the Lord says to each church, we will see the variety of experiences that confront church life and within that we will find encouragement, exhortation and challenge. To keep these studies simple I am going to avoid going into detail about each of the places, for the place does impact on what was happening, but I am simply going to take at face value the things said, as things that can face any church anywhere. For the same reason I am not going to get into any of the various schools of interpretation about possible ‘bigger meanings', we will simply see the church in that day and see what it says to us for our church today.
The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:
1. The Ephesus Experience: Busyness
Rev 2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write”
Speaker: In each ‘letter' Jesus reveals himself in a different way, each one corresponding to one of the descriptions in chapter 1. Here he comes as he, “who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands,” i.e. the watching head of the church, hence his following words, “ I know”. He sees and he knows all that goes on in each of our churches, perhaps better than we do!
Encouragement/Approval: Next he says, “I know your deeds , your hard work and your perseverance . I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people , that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name and have not grown weary.” (v.2,3) This is an active church, a busy church. I am sure if you were the Pastor or Minister of this church you would be pleased with the involvement of your people. They are doers! But more than that, they are righteous and will not tolerate wrong people. And also, further, they are discerning for they have rejected counterfeit apostles. Excellent guys! You are servants of God, holy and discerning of enemy activities. A great church!
Challenge: But! There is almost always a ‘but' or a ‘yet' and it always tends to be negative: “Yet I hold this against you.” (v.4a) Wow, we didn't see that coming, we're a good church, active, holy and so much more. Yes, but that doesn't make you perfect and that is one of the ways we may deceive ourselves. Just because there is so much good in our church, that can blind us to what is missing, where we fail to do the whole will of God. What is Jesus' complaint here? “You have forsaken the love you had at first.” Hang on, how are we different from what we used to be, surely all our activity means we show Jesus how much we love him. Didn't the apostle John say, “ let us not love with words or speech but with actions ”? (1 Jn 3:18) Yes, but that verse ends with, “and truth”.
The Danger: A danger we all face is that we turn from the basic expressions of love coming from God that motivates us to love in return and we start doing ‘good works' to earn approval or make us feel good. So often we have prayer meetings, we do evangelism, we hold events, all to do the works of Jesus, just like Martha. Do you remember her? When Jesus came to their home Martha scuttled around cleaning up, preparing food, doing stuff, while Mary just sat with Jesus and listened to him (see Lk 10:38-42). What a difficult tightrope it is to walk sometimes, yes doing the stuff but holding on to that intimacy with Jesus at the same time. How easy it is for Sunday services to become routine, ritualistic without meaning, just a habit instead of coming into the very presence of God and knowing a sense of intimacy that thrills us into worship. Jesus himself is to be our first love, God is to be our first love, and when we first turned to Him it was like a honeymoon, bubbly and exciting.
Is this important? Isn't it natural to cool off a bit? Yes, it is but we're supernatural spiritual people. In marriage it is so easy for the relationship to become ordinary and almost mundane and so we need to say things and do things that are special expressions of love, and that's true for God as well. Is it important? “ Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first .” (v.5a) Consider – think about it, think about how your spiritual life has been. Repent – change, change your heart, your mind, your actions. Do – get back to how it used to be. Pray, set aside times to listen to Him, stop being so busy and making excuses that say you can't do it. This is serious stuff: “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (v.5b)
And Yet: He doesn't leave them smarting, he says something more that is encouraging. He is pleased with something more about them: “ But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (v.6) Without going into it in depth, let's just say these other people were heretics who led people away from the truth. The Ephesians hated that and weren't going to let it happen to them, good stuff! A call to remain faithful to the truth and to the Lord.
Conditional Hope: Each letter concludes with words to those who will hear and respond and deal with the issues. It calls for a heart that is open, ears that will hear (and respond!): “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (v.7a) This does need saying: another deception is that we hear the words and think that is enough. It isn't. Obedience, repentance, change is all that will satisfy the Lord. But whenever we ‘repent' we turn away from one thing and turn towards another. The other is always to be Jesus, in him is the resource he speaks of. And yet there is a condition: “To the one who is victorious,” and this suggests effort, activity, change, fresh purpose . To be victorious, in the light of what Jesus has said earlier, means to break through the environment of activity and business to reach the rarer air of the presence of God and the fresh, daily knowledge of his love.
The Promise: The promise for the one who is victorious in this is, “I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” So what does that mean? Stop and think, this was the state before the Fall when Adam and Eve had access to God and to a tree that guaranteed them ‘life'. The paradise of God, that which Jesus on the cross promised the penitent thief (Lk 23:43), is available immediately after death according to Jesus. It is the place of the Presence of God. As we said just now, it is to break through the environment of activity and business to reach the rarer air of the presence of God and the fresh, daily knowledge of his love.
Ans So? This is the challenge that comes to us via the church in Ephesus: will we resist the smog of over-busyness that is so symptomatic of the age in which we live, and instead determine to be the people of God who make the time to be in our Lord's presence, both exhibiting and catching again that first love, the love for Jesus that was so fresh, vibrant and exciting that we knew when we first met him. If we are not sure how to go about this, prayer is the first step, prayer that acknowledges this fog that so hinders us, prayer that asks for forgiveness, and prayer that asks for His grace to draw us near to Him, for without His help we are lost in the fog. May that not be!
The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:
2. The Smyrna Experience: Persecution
Rev 2:8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write”
Speaker: To this church Jesus comes as the One who brings, “ the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” (v.8) As the “First and the Last” he is the eternal one of God, the one who was there with the Father at Creation (see Jn 1:3, Heb 1:2, Prov 8:27-31) and will be there at the end (see Rev 5:12,13, 19:11-16, 20:4, 22:1). He was there in heaven with the Father, he left heaven and came to earth (Jn 6:33,38,41,42,51), he died, rose from the dead and ascended back to heaven where he now rules in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2, 1 Cor 15:25). He is thus the One who has experienced this world and all its trials and suffered in it. He knows what this world is like and therefore he is able to empathize with those who go through similar things, he understands it all perfectly.
He Knows their Affliction: Because he is also the all-seeing One with the Father, he ‘knows': “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan.” (v.9) Again, I don't want to go into the details here but just respond to the basic words. Jesus says he knows their afflictions, their sufferings, their trials, he knows it is sometimes a difficult life. The Greek word for affliction implies being crushed beneath a great weight.
He Knows their Poverty: But he also says he knows their poverty and the Greek word implies utterly destitute. There is a false teaching that links affluence with holiness, but that doesn't accord with Jesus' teaching: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” (Lk 6:20) and “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:3) These aren't one and the same. When we are materially poor, we still can know the love of God and even His provision. In some parts of the world the affluence the West knows is absent and yet believers rejoice in the Lord. But there is also poverty of spirit, that awareness that outside of Christ I have nothing, and that is the start of the journey of blessings from heaven. We don't know whether the Christians at Smyrna were materially poor or whether they simply felt poor in spirit, although in the light of their afflictions and suffering, it is more likely to be the latter.
He Knows their true state: “yet you are rich”. It is Jesus' challenge to them to hold a right perspective. Yes, they may lack worldly wealth and they may feel down in the face of their struggles but the reality – and it is a truth we all struggle to hold at times – is that in Christ we are very well off. The apostle Paul said, “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:19). These are spiritual riches. Elsewhere he spoke of “ the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:7) James said, “ Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith.” (Jas 2:5). The resources we have from heaven are unlimited. We have a relationship with the Father, we have a friend in the Son, and we have power in the Spirit. We have his provision and protection today and a home in eternity in the future. Wow! Lord, help us see the reality of this.
He Knows their Opponents: But he knows the causes of some of that opposition, and it is an opposition the apostle Paul experienced again and again, that of the opposition of his own people, the Jews: “I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan.” Even as Paul himself had been in his zealous ignorance, so many of the Jews opposed the early church who they saw as a threat to what they considered was the true faith. But Jesus doesn't mince words. These Jews regularly attend Synagogue and appear to be religious, even pious and zealous but the truth is that they refuse to hear the word of God: “Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46) No, says Jesus, they think they attend the synagogue of Judaism but in reality the place they go to for teaching belongs to Satan! Wow! Again it is a call to hold a right perspective, to understand the truth of any situation.
He Knows their Future: Now comes encouragement if we dare call it that. Jesus doesn't only know what has been happening, he also knows what is coming and he wants to prepare them for this: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor's crown.” (v.10) Note some key parts of this. Testing. It will be instigated by the enemy but don't be put off. Pass the test! Handle it well! Ten days. It will be of limited duration. Job 1 & 2 show us that God controls Satan and His instructions, if He allows him to test us, may be summarised as, “This far and no further.” i.e. it is always limited to what God's will is. Be faithful. That is our calling, what we are to learn from such testing, that God's resources are there for us in it, and His eye is watching over us throughout it, and His will decrees how long it lasts. To the point of death. People do die for their faith because death is not the end, and sometimes the Lord allows such things, e.g. James – Acts 12:2, and Stephen – Acts 7:60. But it may not be death, it may only appear that that is what is coming, e.g. Paul (2 Cor 1:8) but yet lives are preserved. We in the West may struggle with this but Christians in China disdain death. Who is the stronger?
Triumph: The triumph for the one who is victorious and overcomes and remains faithful is that their eternal future is guaranteed and death here on earth is merely a steppingstone to that: “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” ( v.11) Note, “to the churches”. It is what we said previously that this letter would be communicated across the whole area and therefore this is a call to every believer – including us – that we may die here but that simply leads us into eternity. The second death is destruction in the lake of fire (Rev 20:15) and we are expressly excluded from that. The message is loud and clear: don't be afraid of death and what follows it, your eternity with God is guaranteed. The fact that you may die at the hands of enemy agents does not mean God has given up on you; to the contrary, it is because you stood strong and faithful and will be rewarded in heaven accordingly.
And Us? If we live in the West at the beginning of the twenty-first century, these words my appear alien because we have had such comfy, cosy lives but that is not what many Christians around the world experience. Jesus' teaching implied and stated that persecution was often common for believers (see Mt 5:10,12, 10:23, 24:9) and the apostle Paul echoed that (see 1 Cor 4:12, 2 Cor 4:9, Gal 5:11, 2 Tim 3:12). It is a part of Christian history, not always, but often. If we are not experiencing it, let's be grateful and pray for those who are. In it all, let's trust Him who reigns over all things, and seek, with His grace, to remain faithful through whatever comes. Amen? Amen!
The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:
3. The Pergamum Experience: Endurance
Rev 2:12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write”
Speaker: In this letter Jesus comes with, “the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.” In chapter 1 we saw that “coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword.” (1:16) This ‘sword' clearly represents the words he speaks. Paul spoke of the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God .” (Eph 6:17) This pointed, sharp, two-sided sword was a serious weapon of warfare. History tells us that Roman governors were of two sorts, those who had ‘the right of the sword' and those who didn't. Those who did had the power of life and death and could order a person killed on the spot. When Jesus says he has this sword he is challenging all other authority with an authority that comes with his word. He too only needed to speak a word and it was done. We see that throughout Genesis 1 that God speaks a word and it is done.
Approval & Encouragement: Again we are reminded that Jesus, walking among the lampstands sees and knows all things. Here he says, “I know where you live.” (v.13a) We once had two men in our church, fairly young believers who decided the read the Bible together and they read this passage together and when they came to these words they said it reminded them of some gangster film where the hero was threatened by the chief gangster with, “I know where you live!” They said the Holy Spirit impacted them both with a sense of awe – He knows where I live, He can come for me at any time!!!!
Yet for the church there, this knowledge first comes with approval: “where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.” (v.13b) Now there is much speculation as to what all this actually means, but let's just leave it that this major city, this city of culture and government administration, was a place where, for one reason or another, it seems Satan reigns. Here, Jesus says, he has his throne, here he lives. Now let's never lose sight of the fact that he is merely an angel, fallen yes, but nevertheless a created being, created by God for His purposes, and he is limited by only acting according to God's permission (see Job 1 & 2). He only ‘reigns' where the human beings give him permission to do so by their willingness to reject God and follow self-centred, ungodly and unrighteous ways. Such was his activity through the people of this city that one of the Christians had been martyred here. Yet in the face of all this, the church had held firm to their faith and remained true to Christ, not giving up on their faith for one moment – despite the demonic environment, despite the opposition and despite one of their number being killed for his faith. This church has endured.
Challenge: “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you :” (v.14a) That sounds worrying – a few things? More than one? Yes, in fact there are two. First, “There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.” (v.14b) In the church – not all, but some – there are people who have fallen to the deception of Balaam (see this two-faced prophet who gave advice to the enemy how to undermine Israel - Num 31:16 - and died for it – Num 31:8). The simplest way, perhaps, to summarise his tactics is to say he persuaded the Israelites that a little conforming to the ways of the world was all right. It wasn't! I believe there is a blurring today of the boundaries between the church and the world, between righteousness and unrighteousness and so although some commentators suggest historical allegory in these letters, saying Laodicea represents the present day, the truth is that each of these errors are pertinent to every period of history, and now is no exception!
Nicolaitans? “Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” (v.15) This group had been mentioned in 2:6 in Ephesus and we just simply identified them as heretics but maybe we need to say more here. One of the early church fathers, Irenaeus, in his ‘Against Heresies' wrote of the Nicolaitans, “they lived lives of unrestrained indulgence.” and another early church leader said they “abandoned themselves to pleasure …. leading a life of self-indulgence.” They distorted Christian freedom and turned it into licence. Doesn't that sound familiar? I don't know that I have heard that preached but the practice of so many lives in the affluent West seem to be characterized by pleasure and self-indulgence, and when that happens there is a blunting of spiritual sharpness which then gives way to spiritual complacency and spiritual indifference – a disarmed church!
The Challenge: “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” (v.16) I don't know if you have ever heard the expression spoken out by a parent to a child, ”If you don't stop that out you'll get the rough edge of my tongue,” which means unless you sort it out, you'll get a severe scolding, a strong reprimand. In modern-day language Jesus might say, “Guys, sort this or you'll be hearing from me – and you won't like that!” My wife rarely has prophetic words but when she does, they tend to be corrective and you know where they are coming from. Somebody once said, “When she starts prophesying, people start diving under their chairs.” Jesus's words, that come like this two-edged sword have the ability to wreak havoc with our pride. I've also noticed that my daughter, again rarely prophesies but when she does what she brings fits that biblical description, “it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Heb 4:12) When Jesus speaks correctively, beware, his words carve open the heart, revealing the very soul, and then addresses the things needing correcting.
The Reward: For the overcomer in this situation, the one who rejects conforming to the world and living a life of self-indulgence, the promise is, “I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (v.17) Wow, what does that mean? Manna (see Ex 16:11-15) was God's supernatural provision for His people in the desert. Then it was clearly observable and had to be picked. Today God's provision is hidden, it comes by the Spirit. If you hold firm to God and refuse the seductions of the world, the promise is that God will feed you through His Spirit and you will be satisfied and never yearn for more, you will have total contentment.
But a white stone ? Whatever we say here has to be speculation but years ago I asked the Lord about this and what I saw was this: a husband may give to his wife a locket on a chain to be hung round the neck with a picture of both of them in it. It is a constant reminder of the preciousness of the relationship they have. Now the thing about this white (pure) stone is that it has on it your name given to you by Jesus that no one else knows. Do you have a pet name for your partner, something no one else knows? It is not uncommon. Again it is a sign of something precious and intimate between you. That is what we have here, Jesus is conveying something of the preciousness of your relationship with him, your unique relationship, no one else has what you have, they have their own relationship with special aspects to it, but your relationship is unique between you and him. Don't try and get your sense of meaning, purpose and even fulfilment from the world around you, get it from that sense of unique relationship with him that he wants to convey to you. Awesome!
The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:
4. The Thyatira Experience: Mixing with the world
Rev 2:18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write”
The Speaker: Jesus comes to this church, very simply as, “the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” In one sense this very straight forward description is more awe-inspiring than some of the more allegorical descriptions. As the Son of God he is the direct representative of the Godhead. Yes, he is also the one who came to earth and went through the fires of persecution, injustice and death. He is the one who has been tried and tested by difficulties, stresses and strains of opposition and rejection. Whatever pressure we may think we are going through, he has a worse experience to compare to it and so knows what are our trials.
Affirmation: There are good things about this church, things the all-seeing head of the church knows about as he walks among his churches: “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” (v.19) He knows their deeds, their service, he knows that these are motivated by love, expressed by faith and that enables them to persevere in what is often a difficult world. He also knows that this activity has grown since they were established. This is a ‘doing' church, this is a church that does stuff and is known for it. Someone said of my present church some years ago, “they are brilliant at events.” Sometimes we rest in our activities thinking that this is all that is needed. Just recently I have been running a prayer workshop, focusing on praying for the Church and we have examined the various things churches do, things that actually stop them reaching their full potential. One of those things is busyness, a busyness that deceives us into thinking this is all Jesus wants. It is not, he wants a living body. But there are also other things that mar the church, that hinder it, and that prevent it growing to reach its full potential.
Check out your teaching: “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.” ( v.20,21) One of the things we have recently observed in this workshop is that a vibrant church is one that puts biblical teaching and standards high on the agenda. Authoritative preaching and teaching is one of the Lord's primary tool to ward off heresies. In this church there was a woman, or maybe some with the spirit of a woman who reflected the character of the original Jezebel, wife of king Ahab (see 1Kings 16 on) who led a way of life that was idolatrous and rejected the word of God.
All we are told here is that ‘she' “she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols,” and therefore adulterated the faith. In our prayer workshop recently we noted that the biblical standard that limits sexual activity to ‘one man plus one woman, committed to each other for life' has been abandoned not only by the world but by some in the church. We further noted that in the world around us:
sexual activity is viewed by many in younger generations especially (but not solely) as a normal part of an everyday relationship with (any) others, given the opportunity, (boyfriend often means sexual partner),
cohabitation is the norm for many, despite the frequent surveys that show that it is far less stable than a committed marriage,
divorces are common with inadequate counselling provision to avoid it happening, despite the frequent surveys that show the harm done to children through divorce, and the ensuing dysfunctional behaviour of the young being observed in society,
gender boundaries have been removed and identity confusion reigns with inadequate consideration and understanding being given to a) the reality in each case and b) the effects upon society and individuals.
Toleration of idols: Eating food sacrificed to idols was no big issue in some way as the apostle Paul noted (see 1 Cor 8) and yet it was a way of tolerating the idol practices of the surrounding community. The thing about Thyatira was that it was a great trading and business centre with many trade guilds and these largely comprising non-believers would be idol worshippers. If you want to be part of the community, Jezebel urged, it is all right to go along with their practices and still be a Christian. In our society today there are similar groups who gather for mutual benefit who idolize business, prosperity and success and they so often have the insidious effect of watering down the faith of the believer by seducing them into those practices. This was Jezebel's approach, you don't need to cut yourself off from society, the church has been too strict and judgmental, it's all right to go along with these things, God will still love you.
Examples: Moses challenged Israel, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him,” (Deut 30:19,20) and later Joshua similarly challenged Israel, “if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh 24:15) i.e. if you say you are a believer, make a clear choice, go along with the world and watch for the repercussions, or go all out for God and watch the blessings.
Warning: Jesus will not tolerate this in his church. As Peter said, “it is time for judgment to begin with God's household.” (1 Pet 4:17). Here he says, “So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” (v.22,23) This is going to be painful, but when it happens, people will know it is God. That is those in the church who go along with these things, but there the others: “Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.'” (v.24,25) These are the ones who held back from this; just remain faithful is his charge, nothing more.
The Overcomer: Note this: “To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end.” (v.26a) Faithfulness and purity is his call, not just now but always. Ignore what the world is doing all around us, they will reap the consequences of their lifestyles (and it is already becoming obvious), you just remain true and faithful. “I will give authority over the nations— that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery'—just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star.” (v.26-28) The Son of God previously said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Mt 28:18) The overcomer, the one who remains faithful to the end, will share that authority. Jesus is the ‘bright morning star' (Rev 22:16), the last star in the sky saying goodbye to the darkness and heralding a new day. Christ will give himself to the overcomer, they will share together, fellowship today, knowing one another. You don't need to go the way of the world, knowing Christ is the most satisfying thing you can know in the whole world. If Christ seems distant, is it because we have distanced ourselves from him and we have drawn near to the world in its ways and beliefs? May it not be so! “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (v.29)
The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:
5. The Sardis Experience: Come Alive!
Rev 3:1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write”
The Speaker: Jesus comes to this church as the one who, “ holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” The holder of the seven spirits, or the Holy Spirit (seven being the perfect number indicating the one perfect Spirit), the administrator of the kingdom, is the one who holds life. He also holds the angels or leaders of the seven churches, they are in his hand and he can do what he wishes with them. He is indeed the Lord of the Church, the one who brings life to create and establish it, the one who holds its leadership in his hand, to protect it or even discipline it.
The Challenge: The one who sees and knows all things comes and brings a devastating assessment over this church: “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Oh my goodness! You look good, you are making the right noises but the reality is that this life that I hold in my hands, the life of my Spirit, is absent, you're dead! There is some explanation that follows, but what does ‘dead' mean? It means there is an absence of life, there is no movement, no change, no growth. A body that is ‘alive' does all these things.
And Us? I normally leave this part to the end but the question needs asking here, because it is so easy to just read the words and pass over them with little thought. So let's ask the question, does our church really flow with life? Life doesn't just mean there are deeds because this church was doing some stuff, but was and is the life of God truly flowing in this church, my church? Is there ‘movement' in this body, are things happening that reveal the presence and life of God here because He is the source of spiritual life? Are there changes constantly taking place in people, is there individual growth and numerical growth, is the Spirit flowing in such a way that the body of Christ is growing because when it does, “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph 4:15,16) Are we a ‘body' that is conscious of its head, Christ, who is inspiring and directing it? Are we a united body where the life flows between us and we get life and strength and power and direction from one another? Are we conscious of being built up in love, a living, moving, serving, spiritually active body in which life flows and then is able to flow to the surrounding world? If not, do we fit the description of this church? Known for our deeds, our activities, our events, but in reality lacking this life we have been referring to?
And yet, hope: “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.” (v.2) All is not completely lost. There are just one or two glimmers of life, you have done stuff but not gone on and completed what God called you to do. In the presence of God, death can be considered sleep. You can yet wake up, come alive again, it is not too late. You may have become lethargic, weak and fit for little good, but it is not too late for that state to be changed. If you receive these words, they can act as the stimulant that the Sprit can use to re-energize you. So how do we go about this?
A new possibility: “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.” ( v.3a) While you are still able, think back and remember what you have been, what God has said and done for you, who and what He has made you to be, realise afresh the possibilities of who you can be in His hands. It's not too late, but you do need to act. Grab hold of what you knew, hold on to it, and repent of what you have become. This does require honesty to face what you are like now and compare it with what you were and it does require heart changes, but it is not too late.
The Warning: The warning is simply and open ended: “But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (v.3b) If they don't heed this word they will suddenly find Jesus turning up with the rod of correction. What that means is left hanging in the air, but the ominous warning is there.
And Yet: “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. “ (v.4) Our clothes? Robes of righteousness (Isa 61:10), “washed…and made … white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:14) When these clothes are ‘soiled' it means the wearers of the righteousness that Christ conveys to believers, have allowed unrighteous acts to mark and spoil them. But there are indeed some still in this church who have not allowed this to happen and so they will be part of the heavenly host seen in Revelation (e.g. Rev 7:9-17) for they have proved themselves worthy to be with him.
The Overcomer? The overcomer, the one who is victorious in each case, will be one who addresses and responds well to the complaint of the Lord of the Church. In this case, they will be the ones who heed the admonition to wake up, remember the past, strengthen what is there and let life flow again. They will rejoin those who have just been referred to who have not got blemished righteousness so they will be, “like them, be dressed in white.” (v.5a) There is hope that follows repentance so that, “I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.” They will still remain part of the great congregation that will stand before God in the great throne room (see Rev 4 & 5).
To Recap: The goal of the Lord of the Church, the one who holds the Spirit of life, the one who holds the leaders of the Church in his hand, is not to bring his Church to an end, but to restore it so when his words come, they address the things that are wrong so that we may put them right. The first step is always repentance, that awareness of having fallen short, that awareness of grief and contrition, and that pleading for forgiveness and help to enable us to put it right. Repentance always means heart anguish and then action to bring change. God's desire is not to bring death but life, and that life comes from His Spirit and He is given when we are obedient (Acts 5:32) May we not be known for our activity and yet failure to allow the life of the Spirit to flow in and through us. May we heed his words and act accordingly.
The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:
6. The Philadelphia Experience: Fearless Faithfulness
Rev 3:7 “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write”
The Speaker: Jesus comes to this church as the one who, “ is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (v.7) In the days of Isaiah, Isaiah had a word that would depose Shebna the palace administrator (Isa 22:15), the man who permitted access – or not – to the king, a man who thought himself mighty (v.17) and was proud of his power (v.18). He, Isaiah said, would be replaced by Eliakim, who will not be so self-concerned but will be “a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the people of Judah, ” (v.21) and, the Lord said, “ I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (Isa 22:22) A key is an instrument of authority and putting it on his shoulder is a double reference to authority. Yes, he will have the authority to allow in those who he feels are right people to enter the king's presence. Because David had been a man after God's own heart (1 Sam 13:14) he had been given authority and brought peace to the land by having victories over all his surrounding enemies. Jesus comes to this church as the one who has authority to allow entry to the kingdom of God – or exclude those who are not worthy, from it.
Commendation: The one who walks among the churches and sees and knows all things declares, “I know your deeds.” (v.8a) But instead of saying much about those deeds, instead he goes on, “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (v.8b) We are not told what this door is but any door is an opportunity to move on into new areas. At the very least in the light of how he described himself, it seems like Jesus is saying, I am opening up new opportunities for my kingdom to be expanded. This opportunity, which I suspect must have been obvious to them, looked tough and they might have expected opposition, hence “no one can shut” – no one will stop you going through this door. Yet they felt small and weak but, he says, see how you've done so far, “you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” While many others were wavering, they have stood firm in the face of opposition and this fearless faithfulness will keep them and enable them to go through this door.
The Opposition: The opposition is always the enemy, Satan, and those who have given themselves over to him, who stand in opposition to the believers. They, like in Smyrna, have established themselves and it feels like the enemy has a synagogue, an assembly of people who follow him, and in this case they are the Jews who opposed believing Christians: “I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.” (v.9) These people may oppose the church but Jesus will bring them down, will humble them, and they will confess the truth. The church need not fear them.
Protection: Indeed, he goes on a stage further, not only have they stood so far and not only will he bring down the opposition but, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” (v.10) They have been obedient, they have been faithful and true, and so Jesus will guard and protect them from the upheavals that will yet come on the earth. Throughout the book, the faithful believers are saved from the terrible upheavals coming on the world. They may be martyred but they will not suffer the judgments that God will bring on the world.
Continue to Endure: Don't be misled into believing that the way through the open door will be easy, for they are still living in this fallen world and there are still deceptions and temptations so, “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” (v.11) There is the reminder that the Lord will be returning. ‘Soon' simply means surely in the will of God it won't be delayed, he will come at the appointed time. So, hold on to what you have and don't allow anyone to demean you and don't be demeaned in your own eyes – realise that in the kingdom you are rulers. Hold on to that.
Reward: Then comes a threefold reward. First, “The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it.” (v.12a) A pillar is part of the structure that maintains the structure. They continue to uphold, strengthen and support it. The church is held up by strong believers. Second, “I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God.” (v.12b) A name, engraved or written on, identifies the object, the clothing or the person. It also indicates their destination, almost like a luggage label when travelling abroad. They are God's and their destination is the eternal city and no one or nothing will change that. Third, “and I will also write on them my new name.” (v.12c) Jesus is going to have a new name and they will have that name on them as well. Jesus has many names in Scripture but when all has been fulfilled and he is shown to be the one in his Father's hand who has achieved it, he will be seen even more gloriously than we see so far in the book. That is his destination and it will also be their destination
And Us? In this church we have an example to follow: to be a people who have an opportunity put before them which they are encouraged to take. The kingdom is always about taking new ground. There may be opposition and we may feel weak but the Lord encourages us to remember how well we have done so far, and to let him stand on our behalf against the enemy. As he leads us through such doors, the enemy may try to tempt us and deceive us, but he can do no more than that – try. In Christ we ARE triumphant and with his enabling we will go through such doors and do his will. May it be so. Amen!
The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:
7. The Laodicea Experience: Half Heartedness
Rev 3:14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write”
Speaker: Jesus comes to this church as, “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation.” Amen tends to be a word, meaning “so be it!”, that is put at the end of a solemn statement to strengthen or guarantee it. Jesus thus comes as the One who brings truth to all we know of God, the One who confirms the revelation of the Old Testament, the One who is the “faithful and true witness”. To his disciples he said, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well …. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. ” (Jn 14:7,9) To the crowds he taught, “I know him because I am from him and he sent me,” (Jn 7:29) and, “he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” (Jn 8:26) Later the writer to the Hebrews was to write of Jesus, “his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:2,3) This is the Jesus who comes to this church, the Lord of the earth.
Assessment – Half-Hearted: The one who walks among the church and who sees and knows all things declares, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (3:15,16) Neither hot nor cold? Must be tepid, half-way, half-hearted, lukewarm, and because they are neither one thing nor another, he warns, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Wow! This is serious.
Self-Deceived: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (v.17) I suspect the bigger the church (building) the more likely this is true today. Ours is not massive but it is beautiful and therein is the danger. We sit there week by week and we feel good about ‘our church'. We are well-dressed and well fed, and we have such a nice environment that we feel so good. If you worship in a great building, ponder on this deeply. Jesus said of this church that they were, “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Check those words out: wretched – shameful; pitiful – pathetic; poor – weak and feeble; naked – undressed. Consider their opposites, what we should be: wretched – glorious; pitiful – glorious; poor – rich; naked – clothed. Can we say we are a glorious body of Christ (revealing the glory of God), rich in all the spiritual attributes, graces and gifts, clothed in the glorious robes of righteousness that distinguish us from the world round about us?
The big issue here is not only their state, but that fact that they don't realise it. They are deceived into believing that they are all right, even more than that, that they are rich. Simply because we are well off, more affluent than any previous generation, does not make us spiritually rich. A spiritually rich church is one that is alive with the presence and power and activity of God by His Spirit, where life and vitality, where fellowship and friendship, where power and authority, pour through the congregation, through this hopefully wonderful ‘body of Christ', bringing constant life transformation, with conversions, deliverances and healings being a regular feature of their life. We may think we are rich but if these things are absent, we are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
The Threefold Answer: Jesus may be on the verge of spitting them out but he still brings them counsel to enable them to change: “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (v.18) First, buy from Jesus (with your obedient, loving, sacrificial lives) refined gold – real faith formed through suffering (1 Pet 1:7), faith that stands out in its reality, its expression, lives that truly respond to the living word of God that continues to come. Faith is what makes us rich in Christ. Second, white clothes that reveal the work of Christ. When we are naked we are seen in all our weakness, our vulnerability, but when we are clothed with the robes of righteousness that God provides for us (see Zech 3:3-5 for a lovely picture of this) all that is seen is his work in us, and he is glorified. Third, salve to cleanse our eyes. Surely this must be truth, that clears out the deceptive muck and allows us to see reality as it truly is.
Hear Me! “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (3:19,20) What an amazing offer. First of all, you repent. That has got to come first always. But then, second, hear my knocking, I want to come into your lives in a new way, I want to eat with you, sit and fellowship with you, hear your lives and share mine with you. This is a staggering approach of the Son of God, the Lord of all things. This is the equivalent of the way he dealt with the apostle Peter when he had denied him three times. If we had been onlookers we would have been watching for Jesus to shred him to pieces but instead, he commissions him to lead the Church. Incredible grace! And now here, can we see this same thing? He has thoroughly condemned them and shared that he had even been thinking of spitting them out, but what do we now find? He is offering to come to them afresh to enter into a new time of intimate fellowship. Unbelievable! Well, not really, but yes it is incredible!
The Overcomer: Again he is not writing them off but offering a possibility that is mind-blowing, well certainly if you are a wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked and motley crew. Get it sorted, he says, and then, “I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.” Note NOT stand or bow before him in abject surrender of the vanquished failures that they are, but to SIT ON HIS THRONE with him, i.e. to share in the role of ruling over all things! It comes through death to self, just as it did to him who had to pass through death on the Cross, but the reward is this mind-blowing offer that probably defeats our understanding so incredible it is.
I think we need to reflect again on each of these visions of Jesus and on these churches, their good points and bad, so let's move on to do some summarizing of these two amazing chapters in the next studies.
The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:
Recap 1: The Risen Lord
Rev 1:17,18 I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
Approach: Trying to get an overview of these seven letters is difficult because they have similarities and differences. To each of them Jesus comes with a different description of himself, but it is a description that matches what he needs to do with that particular church and so in what follows in this particular summary/recap study we will just look at what he says about himself and what he will do in the light of that description. In the next one we will look at the commendations / challenges and then the promises to the overcomers.
The Seven Churches & Descriptions of Jesus:
1. Ephesus: “him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.” (v.2) “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (v.5) This is the Lord of the Church, the head of the body, the one who gave his life to bring the Church into existence. This is the watcher who walks among the churches, the one who not only brought the churches into being, but also the one who can remove the churches, any one, any time. So often we feel so secure in our complacency, our enjoyment of life, that we feel it will go on for ever and ever regardless. We look at our leaders and, like we look at the world, we feel nothing will change – but that ignores the head of the church. I have watched those who felt so secure in their leadership and I have even brought a word to one leader aboard about him being taken out. I am sure he felt secure but four weeks later (and I don't know the details) he was out of leadership, out of the church. When Jesus calls us to repent, we would be fools to ignore him.
2. Smyrna: “him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” (v.8) “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor's crown.” (v.10) This is the eternal one who stepped into time-space history and gave his life for us, only to rise from the dead. This is the one who has passed through death and therefore knows the stresses that come with life-threatening situations, that come when the opposition rises up against us, this is the one who will be with us in such times and so this is the one who is not being unthinking when he calls us to be faithful even when it is life threatening.
3. Pergamum: “him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.” (v.12) “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” (v.16) This is the one whose words can be devastating, penetrating, painful, chastising, disciplining, correcting, words that come like a two-edged sword. How to avoid this? Make sure we keep pure lives, righteous lives, spirit-filled lives, godly lives. Check them out.
4. Thyatira: “the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. ” (v.18) “So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.” (v.22) This is the one from heaven, the very expression of the Godhead before us, one who came and was tried in the fires of opposition and death but who stayed true. This is the one who holds accountable those who oppose him, who oppose the will of God, who turn to the enemy and to the world, who relish their sin. This is the one who will deal with them. Again, make sure we give him no cause to gaze on us with his eyes like blazing fire, eyes full of anger and the righteousness and wrath of God.
5. Sardis : “him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” (v.3a) “But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief,” (v.3b) This is the one who brings life by the power of his Spirit, the one who brings the very life of the church out into the open, the one who calls us to be awake to his presence and his moving and his desires. This is the one who watches and watches, looking for signs of life (so that perhaps we think he is not there and not concerned) but who in a second when he knows the time is ripe, comes like a flash of lightning, suddenly without any warning. We have already had all the warning we need.
6. Philadelphia: “him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (v.7) “I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you .” (v.9) This is the one who can open the doors of the kingdom and usher in the works and will of God, the one who makes opportunities for us to go through those doors and experience the wonder of the life, the activity, and the power of the kingdom – and expects us to take those opportunities.
7. Laodicea: “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. ” (v.14) “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (vb.18) This is the one who came to the earth from heaven and suffered all the temptations the evil one could lay before him, this is the one who received all his taunting as he hung there on the cross, this is the one who suffered misunderstandings, betrayal, rejection and denial but remained true to the purpose of his Father in heaven. This is the one who now rules at his Father's right hand, ruling over the world in the midst of his enemies, ruling until the time is ripe for him to return in triumph and hand the kingdom back to his Father. This is the one who laid down his life for his Father and for his future people, so this is the one who can now call those people to live similar lives, lives on fire for him, lives that are all out for him, lives that glorify the Father in heaven. And amazingly, this is the one who still holds out his hands of love and acceptance calling for our repentance so we can come again and share his life afresh, share fellowship afresh with him, commune with him, shares hearts with him.
And So? The Lord of the church shows himself to us as the one who is holy, the one who is faithful to his Father's calling, the one who remained true during the trials of life on the earth, the one who gave his life to win us and redeem us, this is the one who see everything, knows everything and calls us all to accountability. And when we face him with our failures and our weaknesses, he looks for three things: first our repentance, our acknowledgment of having got it wrong, then our reliance upon his work on the cross on our behalf, letting him be our Saviour, and finally our reliance upon his guidance and direction and empowering as we let him be our Lord. Kneel before him in submission, in honesty and in worship.
The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:
Recap 2: Struggles of the Church
Rev 1:4 To the seven churches
Perspective: When we read the letters of the various apostles we find them addressing the various things they feel the local church needs to consider and often it is in the context of who we are. One of the things I have not sought to consider in these studies, to keep them relatively short, is the nature of the environment in which each church found itself, the spiritual background of the city or the culture of the area, for although they are important the problems that they throw up tend to be the same sort of problems that the Church across the world faces in one degree or another all the time. I have titled this short series ‘The Church Kaleidoscope' meditations because it crosses my mind that, as I have commented before, we all have similarities but also differences. However, when it comes down to it, the reality is that the sorts of problems we face as church can ultimately be boiled down to just a few. Rather than go through each church as I did in the previous study, here I will simply try to group together the different sorts of issues that face the church.
1. Enemy Opposition: This varies from place to place and from nation to nation. If we sought to categorize the ways the enemy wages war against the saints, this would be identified as ‘outright opposition or hostility. In some parts of the world enemy hostility against Christian believers is blatant and intensive and, if reports are true, in China the opposition of the Communist Party (which is greatly outnumbered by the number of Christians in the country) has become more intense at the end of this second decade of the twenty-first century.
In Smyrna, the Jews slandered the church (2:9) and indeed (and we're not told by who) the opposition against the church is going to intensify so that some believers will be even put in prison for their beliefs (2:10) and there will be a (limited) spate of ongoing persecution. In Pergamum , they had likewise suffered persecution and one believer, Antipas, ha been martyred, so intense had been the persecution. In Philadelphia there was also a hint of persecution (3:9,10).
2. Deception – Wavering Belief: Again, it is often said, the battle that the enemy wages is a battle for the mind. Ever since the Garden of Eden (see Gen 3) deception has been a weapon he employs. Throughout my Christian life (over fifty years now) I can look back and see a number of instances where some new fad or way of thinking and doing has come to the fore that has proved to be a deception which has then passed away. Although those ways of thinking were specific (tending to be) doctrinal issues, there has, especially in the last ten to twenty years I believe, been a general watering down of the Faith in many quarters (not all thankfully). I have commented on it before but the whole area of sexuality has become a battle ground from the enemy, so that t he biblical standard that limits sexual activity to ‘one man plus one woman, committed to each other for life' has been abandoned in many quarters and is under severe pressure in others, and mayhem reigns. In an even more troubling battle-zone attacks upon the Bible have been coming from within the church, by what were once described as liberal thinkers, but has been regularly occurring in recent years, a trend where books are appearing that demean or demote the Bible as our foundation. The foundation for Christian belief and practice has been getting whittled away.
Deception in one form another is always near the surface. In Ephesus, they had to contend with false apostles (2:2) as well as with the false watering-down doctrines of the Nicolaitans that also appeared in Pergamum, linked to that softening deception of Balak (2:14,15), which we summarised as ‘ a little conforming to the ways of the world is all right.' If you have any doubts about this deception in today's church, ask yourself, “Do I see a church where people are on fire for God, on fire for His word, and on fire with the Holy Spirit, or do I see a people more concerned with the ‘good life' that affluence and materialism and modern technology brings in the twenty-first century?” Thyatira suffered another form of deception (2:20) by having a woman (or was it a whole way of looking?) who, as I noted above in parts of today's Church, allowed sexual immorality and blurring of the boundaries between righteousness and unrighteousness. These are all belief issues that lead into changing of behaviour issues.
3. Seduction of heart and mind: The third enemy strategy we see coming out in some of these letters has to be a seduction that uses complacency and indifference to lull the church into a place of deception, not so much of false teaching but more as shear spiritual laziness that produces a lack-lustre faith which more and more walk away from. This probably can be seen as simply an absence (and the joy with it) of the life of the Spirit in the life of the Church. Again, if you are not sure of this, ask yourself here, “Do I see in my church the outright activity of the Holy Spirit so that there is a life and vitality in the congregation that produces a regular flow of people being born again, delivered and healed, with a sense of the wonder of the Presence of the Lord in the midst that creates a mixture of awe and rejoicing?” Be honest, can you say you see that in your church? If not, it's time for prayer!
In Ephesus, this was manifested as having lost their first love (2:4). In Sardis it was seen in the form of comatose religion, where they appeared spiritually dead and needed waking up. In Laodicea it manifested itself as luke-warmness, or what I called half-heartedness. The first of these three were good at activities but it failed to have love for Jesus at the heart of it. The second would have had a good reputation for holders of doctrine but not for life in the Spirit. The third one were just blind to their true state, no doubt like many of us today who think we are ‘fine' or ‘OK' without realising how far short if the biblical picture on Christ's heart we are.
And So? These things are not said to depress or make us feel bad about ourselves, but to open our eyes to the truth or reality of how life can so often be in the Church and this is why Christ says these things to these churches back there in history, so that we might see them and through them perhaps see where we too fall short. The goal is not to pull down but to stir hearts to prayer and action and bring change. Jesus wants his Church renewed and revived and where we fall short of what is on his heart, then repentance is the first step. Identifying where we are similar to these churches should then enable us to seek him for his wisdom to put things right, or seek his Spirit to bring fresh life to us so that we may truly become the body of Christ that the New Testament describes, gifted, empowered and sent to do the works of the kingdom (check out Lk 4:18,19 and Mt 11:5 together with Jesus instructions in Jn 14:12 and Mt 28:20). To conclude this penultimate study, can we heed James' instructions to, “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (Jas 1:22) Amen.
The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:
Recap 3: Possibilities of the Church
Rev 1:4 To the seven churches
Approach: Because there are different and specific words for each church we will consider each item with its church. There are all the same in that they begin, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious….” except to Thyatira which adds, “and does my will to the end.” This phraseology suggests, “Let every listener hear what the Spirit says to the Churches,” (JBP version) or perhaps more simply, “Pay attention! This is important!” We have commented on this before but I believe it is important to see these concluding words to each church as a challenge to reach for the possibility that the Lord is offering to each church. There are, in other words, words of hope, hopes of what they may yet experience.
Correction: It is important to see that the condition for blessing in each case is repentance, the heart and mind change that will bring about change of actions. Anything less is likely to bring the severe discipline of the Lord which is seen in specific warnings in three of the churches only, plus a more general warning to Laodicea after an earlier warning. Smyrna (afflictions through persecution), Thyatira (judgment on Jezebel) and Philadelphia (who have endured in the face of opposition) face no such censures:
Ephesus: “Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (2:5)
Pergamum: “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” (2:16)
Sardis: “But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (3:3)
Laodicea: “I am about to spit you out of my mouth… .. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” (3:16,19)
The Hope for the Church: So here are the hopes presented, the possibilities that are revealed to and through each church:
Ephesus: “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (2:7) The thing to be overcome – their loss of their first love, even though they were hard workers and those who discerned the works of the enemy in false leaders. If they overcome they will have access to heaven, to the presence of God and to eternal life. Now the challenge in writing these words is that there is an implication: if they do not overcome they will not, at least here on this earth, have access to heaven to God and the power and wonder of His eternal life flowing in us. Are we undermining our salvation in saying this, for surely these things are our inheritance? No we are not, and yes these things are our inheritance but there is a difference in having them waiting for us in heaven and experiencing them now. How many of us know about waiting in the presence of God and knowing Him? How many of us in prayer catch a sense of heaven coming down to earth? How many of us know the power of His Spirit energizing us, healing us, inspiring us, and lifting us up above the mundane of consumerist twenty-first century materialism? These are the possibilities. Do we experience them?
Smyrna: “The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” (2:11) It is probable that most of us in the West do not suffer persecution and certainly that which is life-threatening, and so rarely are we confronting death and wondering what comes next. But this church was living on the edge with some about to be imprisoned for their faith. This church needed the reminder that those who oppose us will one day have to account and stand before the Great Judgment, but for us who hold true, we will be able to stand with a clear conscience – or if there are obvious failures, have the awareness of the work of the Cross – and know we have nothing to fear in the future. Is that you and me? When we are faced with death, is there fear lurking in the background or do we have that glorious assurance?
Pergamum: “To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (2:17) To the faithful church, those who hold firmly to the faith – in word and deed and Spirit – is the promise of an intimacy with Jesus that involves ongoing heavenly provision and a unique identity in him. It comes with the warning not to merge with the world but to remain holy and distinct. Are we overcomers, do we know this ongoing daily provision from heaven, so we have a sense of a unique identity in Christ?
Thyatira: “To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— 27 that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery'—just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give that one the morning star.” (2:26-28) Faithfulness means continuous faithfulness and perseverance and endurance in ensuring the will of God prevails in our lives. To the one who overcomes and rejects the ways of the world and of the enemy, comes the promise that ultimately has to be the role of reigning with Christ, acting with his authority in the midst of this fallen world, knowing him. He is ‘the morning star', the last star in the sky saying goodbye to the darkness and heralding a new day, and in this we will share. Are we overcomers who say goodbye to the darkness and herald a new day with the light of Christ?
Sardis: “The one who is victorious will … be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.” ( 3:5) The overcomer in this church is the one who is dead but wakes up and comes alive again and the promise is of eternal life and a name in heaven. The shocking implication is that those who are ‘dead', if they fail to ‘come alive' will fail to inherit eternal life. Yet there is a glimmer of hope in “strengthen what remains and is about to die,” which suggest the declaration of death is really what they ought to be known by instead of having a reputation for being alive. Their lives, we might suggest hang in the balance. Is this true for more in the church than we perhaps realise? Let's make sure our faith and destiny is assured.
Philadelphia: “The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.” (3:12) In the face of persecution, this church has prevailed and thus they become bulwarks of the church, identified to all as being united to God and to heaven and eternity. They stand out to the rest of the world as a signpost to glory. Is that us?
Laodicea: “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (3:21) The overcomer is the one who casts away half-heartedness, who seeks the Lord for purity and strength and vision and righteousness. The one who is all-out for God is given the right to sit with the Godhead, ruling in the midst of their enemies. The obvious question has to be, are we half-hearted or are we all out for God, full of His word, full of His Spirit, blessing the church and the world and bringing glory to God?
And So? What more is there to say? Very little. Go back through these last three analytical recaps and in the first one let the vision of the risen and reigning Christ, the Lord of the Church impact you. Check out, in the second one, the strategies and activities of the enemy and declare you will stand against them. Finally, in this last one, read again the descriptions and ask the Lord for a spirit of revelation to see just where we, as individual local churches are in this kaleidoscope of experiences. Be blessed.