Monday, May 11, 2009

One More Look Among the Lampstands (Revelation 2:1-3:22)

The way the Bible deals with open frankness about all matters is reminscent of an incident which took place when Ray Stedman was being discharged from the United States Navy at the end of World War II. In common with thousands of others who were leaving the services at that time, he had to undergo a physical examination. Anyone who has been subjected to this knows that it is always done enmasse. Two or three hundred young men were stripped absolutely naked and were all standing in line in a room were they had to endure a very intimate and thorough examination.

One cannot read the Bible without seeing how intimately Jesus is concerned with His Church. God is concerned about His people and how He is being represented to the world by them. These churches stand exposed not only in space (one can visit their geographic locations) but across time. Through this examination, one gets the idea very quickly that Christ is the head of a living organism and if we are going to be part, we must make certain we are right about how He is represented both in and to the world. Interestingly enough, this book is about the Revelation, or the uncovering or revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. Right off we find Him addressing letters to His churches where He exposes them. What a contrast to see Who He Is and what He is not! This is the very purpose of the Revelation!

Try an experiment: walk up to anyone in the street and ask them, "what do you expect of the Church?" We will learn very quickly that the world expects something that is very different than what Jesus expects. Jesus never changes and the things that He expected of His people in the Old Testament have never changed even today. These two chapters help us understand that not every church is of our Lord Jesus Christ and not every doctrine is from the Bible against the Lord who never changes. We can learn what Jesus expects of His church by reading these letters. Golden lampstands mean that the church is priceless to Jesus. Each one is heavy! They are made of something that symbolizes great value. But how well are the lampstands doing what they were made to do?

First, people have the wrong concept of Jesus--they don't know who He is, so He identifies Himself in very particular ways in these letters. Should He be unrecognized by a church, then this might not be a church at all! Second, Christ has a role in His Church. Putting His identity and role together and we see Him as the one who is faithfully witnessing (1:5a) what He sees in contrast with Himself, giving testimony to who God is. He is "the firstborn of the dead" (1:5b); that is, He is The Primary One who is inspecting His inheritance found in the lampstands. He is "the ruler of the kings of the earth" (1:5c). In other words, He is excercising Sovereignty over creation, and in this case, the Church. He is the one "who released us from our sins by His blood" (1:5d). He is life and we will see throughout His addressed to His Churches that each one receives a promise concerning life following repentance.

What does Jesus expect of His Church? Be doctrinally sound, uncompromised. Love what He loves and hate what He hates. Be overcomers. Don't quit or fear what is coming. Be alive. As He goes through giving out "Church Health Awards," we find our Lord Jesus Christ making positive and negative statements about what He sees in each church, followed by words of instruction then a promise. There are also specific words or phrases that surface regularly in these brief epistles, such as "remember," "repent", "he who has an ear let him hear," and "to him who overcomes."

"The Angel of the Church."

Each church is addressed by Jesus to each "angel" of the church. Some feel these angels could be identified as the guardians of each church, the spiritual messengers responsible for each church. Others feel that "angel" is taken quite literally as the messenger to, or the one responsible to take the message of God to each fellowship of believers found in each city, specifically, the pastor or human leader of each group. If these were angellic (spiritual) beings Jesus is addressing, there is the question as to why each one would be addressed with the warnings.

The Bible makes a distinction concerning angels from human leaders specifically in relation to the gospel: they are messengers, ministers of fire (Hebrews 1:7); but are not subject to the world to come, "concerning which we are speaking" (Hebrews 2:5). Peter writes that the prophets made careful search and inquiry concerning Christ and had an understanding that angels do not (1 Peter 1:12). We also find in Peter and Jude concerning the swift punishments angels received for abandoning their proper abode.

Since God's Word remains unchanged, it does not follow that a spiritual being could be given the opportunity to repent, remember, and repeat what was done before (to the angel in Ephesus, for example). What would happen to angel who left his first love (Ephesus), opened the door to immorality (Pergamum), turned to idolatry (Thyatira), died (Sardis), embraced self (Laodicea)? Can an angel repent? Do they get white stones of innocence? Should he be concerned about having his name removed from the book of life? Can an angel become a pillar in God's temple? Clearly the spiritual beings are not what is in mind here.

"Angels" and "stars" are used together in the same context here. These letters are addressed to the ones Jesus holds in His right hand. The church should expect the pastor to be the messenger of God, and Jesus expects the same. Now is the time for accountabilty on two levels: how well has an imperfect man spoken on His behalf to imperfect people who are to obey what God has said?

"He who has ears to hear"

Consider all the ear problems: there are itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3) also known as "tickled" ears that mean; heavy ears (Isaiah 6:10) are usually identified with heavy eyelids; uncircumcised ears (Jeremiah 6:10). The first means that people are listening to everyone. The second means that people are not listening to anyone, namely God--should He have to ask for an audience? Jesus wants to know who is hearing His voice (Rev. 3:20). Since God has not stopped talking, He wants us to hear with the presupposition that we will obey.

This is a common admonition to each church, regardless of their spiritual condition. God is delivering His Word and the faithful will not merely listen, but will hear and obey. The Lord Jesus Christ is looking for hearing ears.

"I Am Coming."

Of the seven letters to the seven churches in these opening chapters of Revelation, six of them mention Christ's coming (Smyrna receives no message concerning His return). Three times He says He will come and deliver the faithful while the other three mentioning His coming and judgment of the unfaithful. Regardless, His coming is imminent. How will you meet Him at His coming?

"To Him Who Overcomes."

"The Christian life is a warfare against sin, Satan, the world, and the flesh. It is not enough that we engage in this warfare, but we must pursue it to the end, we must never yield to our spiritual enemies, but fight the good fight, till we gain the victory, as all persevering Christians shall do; and the warfare and victory shall have a glorious triumph and reward." (Matthew Henry)

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