[Dec 17]—To the Church in Ephesus

Rev. 2:1-7

Whenever someone announces that we’re doing a Bible Study on the book of Revelation, everybody always assumes that this’ll entail a deep look at Eschatology, or “the End Times.” I can understand that, since a large portion of the book deals with that. But if that’s your main purpose in reading it, you’re likely missing out on so much. There’s a lot in the last book of the Bible that we can carry away that has nothing to do with our particular interpretation of the details surrounding the return of Christ.

The first three chapters have--as far as I can tell--little to do with his return. In the first chapter the Lord appears to John and gives an introduction to the rest of the book. Then chapters 2 and 3 contain letters from Jesus to seven of his churches. I know that there are interpreters who see the seven churches as symbolic of different “ages” in God’s plan for history. Quite frankly, I don’t buy it—it looks like they’re reading into Scripture things that aren’t there. If they are there, he’s hidden it pretty well, and it seems like kind of a stretch. I think it’s better to see these things as what they appear to be: Letters from the Lord Jesus to real and historical churches that were in the last part of the 1st century. However, in each of these churches we can see parallels which can seem familiar, sometimes uncomfortably so.

There’s a simple pattern we’ll see with these letters, some things in common with each of them:
1) It starts out with addressing the message to the “angel” at that church. This isn’t a hill I’d die on, but there’s no indication from anywhere in Scripture that the purely spiritual creatures known as “angels” are in charge of churches. The word simply means “messenger,” so the best explanation I’ve heard is that Jesus is addressing the pastor or head elder of that church, who represents that church. 
2) Next is “These are the words of. .  .” ending with a description of the Lord Jesus, telling us something about his nature and/or his work.  In this case, he’s the one “who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.”
3) Then comes something that he knows and notes about that church, something he’s noticed about it and the spirit or atmosphere or situation of the church at that time.
4) Next is any praise or condemnation that they deserve, along with any attendant warnings or promises.
5) Each one of them then has these exact words: “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” In other words, listen up! Pay attention to what I’ve just told you!
6) Finally, each one has at or near the end of the message a wonderful promise for anyone who’s “victorious” (we’ll get to that tomorrow). 

 What does today's reading tell us?

He's walking among us. He’s not relying on second-hand information. When we meet together, he’s there among us. When the pastor is preaching a sermon, there’s an invisible Listener. As we sing together, he’s the Audience.

Our Lord Jesus is evaluating each church. Yes, we’re bought by his blood and justified by grace plus nothing. But that doesn’t mean he won’t examine our work and judge how we’re doing. If there’s something going right in a church (in other words, if they’re walking closely with him and being obedient), he notices and applauds it. If something is going wrong—if they’re falling away from a close relationship with him—he notices that too and will take appropriate action. If they’re enduring hardship in his name, he takes note of that, and will bring them to the other side of it.

• Oh, how meaningful a few words can be! John says that the Lord Jesus is the One “who holds the seven stars in his right hand.” What are these seven stars? They represent the churches. And he's holding them in his hand. My friend, if he wasn't holding them in his hand, the next moment they'd be falling stars. The Lord Jesus Christ is the One who holds these stars. Not a pastor or a preacher or a minister, and it certainly isn’t held up by the faithfulness of his children in general.

But if a church is unfaithful, he can remove a church’s “lamp stand.” What does this mean? Well, we know from other Scripture that this isn’t talking about anyone losing their salvation. But a church can lose its effectiveness. A church can lose its witness. A church can be removed from its place on the world stage. A church can have rottenness within, just like an old and venerable tree that looks fine but secretly is being eaten away by termites. The only way most people would know about the infestation is when the tree falls to the earth. Yes, a church can die. His Body lives on, and nothing can ever change that. But a particular expression of that Body, if he so chooses, can be removed. And history is replete with the corpses of churches to which this happened.

This is so important to keep in mind. It’s a message of comfort and challenge. Which one it will be is entirely up to you.

Lord Jesus, I pray for my church. I completely acknowledge that you’re the One holding it up, and without you doing so it’d fall faster than a meteorite. Please--by your grace--please keep us faithful, so you don’t have to remove it.

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