Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Revelation and the church

The word translated 'church' in the New Testament means 'an assembly' .  Church is people rather than place.  Church is community not buildings.  The New Testament never speaks of the house of God but does speak of the household of God.  Look around at the Christians gathered here this morning and you see church.  Look around at the walls and roof of this place and you see the rain-shelter in which the church meets.

This morning we are looking at the church in Revelation.  The first thing that we see is that the church consists of people who are loved by Christ (1:5).  Yet in the world not everyone shares Christ's passion for his people.  The book of Revelation speaks of satanically-inspired enemies of the church. The church will be persecuted in the world.  But we do not lose hope because we are journeying through this world to a wonderful home.

1.  The church needs to listen to Jesus (1:9-3:22)

In 1997 I went on a holiday with my parents.  We visited the sites of the towns mentioned in the first three chapters of this book.  They were in the Roman province of Asia which is now in modern Turkey.  Ephesus and Pergamum are still amongst the most amazing places I have ever been to.

While the church is made up of every Christian it consists of local groups of believers meeting together.  Jesus addresses seven of these local churches.  It is worth noting that the number seven is symbolic of completeness and that there were at least ten churches in Asia at that time.  Therefore it is safe to say that these churches are chosen representatives and that these words are for every church at every time.

When we read these letters to the churches we should ask:  Are we like the church at Ephesus, with its sound theology but lack of love?  Are we like the church at Thyatira, which was hard working but tolerant of immorality and compromise?  Are we aiming to be like the church at Philadelphia, who kept Christ's word and would not deny his name?  Are we wanting to be like the church at Smyrna, which was materially poor and spiritually rich (unlike Laodicea, which was materially rich and yet spiritually poor)?

While these letters to the churches call for community repentance notice that they finish on a note of individual repentance (3:20).  'If anyone hears by voice ...'  The church is not made more beautiful by members pointing to the faults of others.  A critical spirit never made the bride of Christ more lovely.  Revival of the church begins with individual Christians repenting, opening themselves up to more of the influence of Christ, and inspiring others to do likewise.

2.  The church is persecuted in the world (4:1-20:15)

I believe the book of Revelation has a message for every generation of the church.  While the beast-like powers, of chapters thirteen and fourteen, may have a particular fulfilment in the period immediately preceding Christ's return they have their equivalents throughout the ages.  The first hearers of Revelation would have had no trouble relating these figures to the government of the Roman emperor Domitian as he presented himself as being divine and persecuted those who would not worship him.

The beast from the sea represents religious or political ideologies that oppose the gospel.  This beast delights to see us keep our mouth shut about Jesus.  This beast would have us deny that Jesus is the only way to God.  This beast would have us water-down a gospel that proclaims the desperate need all people have to be forgiven and restored to God.

The beast from the land represents political regimes and economic structures that persecute the church.  This beast delights when he sees us compromise for financial gain.  This beast would enjoy seeing Christians distort their tax returns and work outside the tax system.  This beast would approve of unethical business practices and the black market.

Ultimately the beast from the land and the beast from the sea want our total allegiance.  They will stop at nothing to get their way.  The powers that be will kill to get their way.

Why does God allow the church to suffer in this world?  He allows the church suffer in this world because as the church stands firm she is being refined and made beautiful.  In this world the church is a bride being prepared for her wedding day.

Will we survive all the tribulations we face in this world?  Christians may die but they will remain faithful.  Tribulation, persecution, danger and sword can not separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8).  Christ has sealed those who are his (7:4).  God will keep us firm to the end.  Those who love Christ will face the allure of materialism, the pressure to compromise, the temptations of affluence, and the danger of spiritual complacency.  But we will show that we are his as he gives us the power to overcome.

3.  The church is on a pilgrimage to a land of love (Chapters 21-22)

While the church faces pressures in this world she looks with anticipation to what is to come.  The final chapters of Revelation show us Christ's people gathered together in a world of love.  In the 1700s, referring to the closing chapters in Revelation, Jonathan Edwards wrote: “The glorious presence of God in heaven, fills heaven with love, as the sun, placed in the midst of the visible heavens [the sky] in a clear day, fills the world with light.” (Rev. 21:23).  “All the saints in heaven love God for his own sake, and each other for God’s sake, and for the sake of the relation that they have to him, and the image of God that is upon them.”

While pride and selfishness hinder our love for God and his people in this world in the New Heaven and New Earth all such barriers to love will have been torn down.  Even now the love we experience for God and his people gives us a taste of what is to come.  “That which was in the heart on earth as but a grain of mustard-seed, shall be as a great tree in heaven.  The soul that in this world had only a little spark of divine love in it, in heaven shall be, as it were, turned into a bright and ardent flame, like the sun in its fullest brightness, when it has no spot upon it.”

“And oh! what joy will there be, springing up in the hearts of the saints, after they have passed through their wearisome pilgrimage, to be brought to such a paradise as this!  Here is joy unspeakable indeed, and full of glory — joy that is humble, holy, enrapturing, and divine in its perfection!  Love is always a sweet principle; and especially divine love.  This, even on earth, is a spring of sweetness; but in heaven it shall become a stream, a river, an ocean!"


I remember listening to a speaker who asked what our favourite picture of the church was.  I think I said mine was the bride of Christ.  In Revelation we see that the church is a people loved by Jesus.  He allows us suffer in this world but gives us the grace to endure.  In this world the church is being prepared as a bride for her wedding day.  The pressures we face purify and refine us.  Like every bride we look forward to the wedding.  For we are on our way to a world of love.  We are going to join Christ forever.  The book of Revelation finishes with a reminder of our evangelistic task.  We see the bride of Christ issue an invitation to all.  'The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price' (22:17).

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