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, 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 marveled 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 over-comers 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.